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NFL Prospect Focus: Chris Smith and Brandon Thomas

Greg Gabriel breaks down two players on opposite sides of the line. Greg Gabriel

March 24, 2014
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Chris Smith – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Arkansas

Size – 6011 – 266 – 4.71

Strong Points – Athletic, initial quickness, explosive, use hands, pass rush, tackle, very long arms

Weak Points – Height to play defensive end, no experience in pass coverage, defense against the run, shedding run blocks

2013 Stats - 36 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 21.5 career sacks

Summation – Chris is a fourth-year senior and a two-year starter for the Razorbacks. He lines up at defensive end and plays from both a two-point and three-point stance. In the tape viewed, when he was playing on his feet, he never dropped into coverage.

He is best as a pass rusher. He has very good snap reaction/anticipation, and often, is out of the blocks before his opponent has a chance to set. He stays low and can use his hands to “jolt” his opponent. He is explosive through the hips generating the power needed to be an effective bull rusher. He is athletic with quick feet and uses a variety of moves. He has a spin move that he is very effective with. He also has the body control to use counter moves and shows a quick burst off blocks to the target. With his 34” arms he can create leverage advantages and make up for his lack of height.

Smith can be inconsistent versus the run. While he reacts quickly, I have seen him lose contain and get caught inside too often versus outside runs. While he is strong, he lacks size and can get overpowered at the point by big linemen and shed slowly. He flashes enough to show you he can get it done if he stays disciplined to his technique.

Smith is a good pursuit player who has speed and takes good angles to the ball. He is an effective tackler who hits and wraps.

Overall, Smith can play defensive end in some 4-3 schemes but would be more of a designated pass rusher than a full time player. At the combine, he showed he could drop into coverage, but his hands were not very good (he body caught most throws). His best bet to be a fulltime player in the NFL would be as a 3-4 OLB where he will be used as a pass rusher on passing downs. I can see him being a starter by his second year in this type of situation.

Grade – B 6.6

Brandon Thomas – Offensive Line – Clemson

Size – 6032 – 317 – 5.09

Strong Points – Three-year starter, has played both guard and tackle, long arms, run block, block the bull rush, get to the second level, good knee bender

Weak Points – Height for tackle, can have trouble with wide speed and counter moves in pass protection

Summation - Thomas is a fifth-year senior and a three-year starter for the Tigers. In 2011 he started games both at left guard and left tackle. In 2012 and 2013, he played strictly left tackle and has improved with experience.

At 6032, Thomas possesses ideal height for a tackle, but he makes up for it with his long arms (34.75”). He has good speed and straight-line quickness but his change of direction is adequate. This was evident at the combine, where he ran an 5.09 in the 40, but his three-cone and 20 shuttle times were average-to-poor (8.13, 4.83). He has strength, power, and explosiveness, but his hip tightness slows his change of direction and recovery.

I see his best fit as a run blocker. He comes off the ball quickly and is powerful on contact. He is able to generate movement with his run blocks and shows he can get to the second level and be somewhat effective. He has the strength and power to turn and seal off defenders in the run game.

In pass protection, he is best versus a bull rush. He can bend his knees and anchor. He can struggle some with wide, outside speed as he cannot consistently set wide to stop wide speed. I have also seen him give up some pressures to countermoves to the inside. This happens because his lateral quickness to the outside and recovery is just above average. He has a strong punch and uses his hands well. I have seen him “jolt” opponents with his punch.

Thomas is best suited to play inside at guard. It will take a little time for him to adjust, but I see him as a winning left guard in the league. If he doesn’t start as a rookie, he will be a valuable backup as he can also play tackle. He should get drafted somewhere between the middle of the second to the beginning of the third round.

Grade - A 6.6

Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggabe

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