2015 NFL Draft Preview: Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi St.
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This eighth week, the focus is on defensive ends. Because many college defensive ends transition to linebacker in the NFL, we would like to clarify that all players being analyzed this week played defensive end in college. Our first DE prospect is Preston Smith out of Mississippi State.
Smith played for four years at Mississippi State, starting 24 of his 47 games. He totaled 134 total tackles (27 for a loss), 16 sacks, seven passes defended, five forced fumbles and two interceptions, one of which was a pick-six. SEC coaches named Smith a First Team All-SEC defensive end after the 2014 season, and the Associated Press named him to Second Team All-SEC. He was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the 2013 Liberty Bowl. He was also named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for three-straight weeks in 2014 and is the only player in SEC history to earn that distinction.
At 6’5” and 271 pounds, Smith has good size, including an impressive wingspan, and is not pushed around by offensive linemen. He is a strong tackler and consistently wraps up opponents. He has experience rushing the passer from both sides of the line, and he has been asked to drop back into coverage at times. He can also rush from the inside on occasion.
Watch as Smith goes right up the middle for the sack in this clip from his 2014 game against Kentucky:
Unfortunately, Smith is not particularly fast off the edge, despite the fact that he ran a 4.74-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. He is also not extremely powerful as a rusher and can sometimes fail to knock a lineman off his stance. Smith’s lack of “quick-twitch” athleticism has also been noted by multiple scouts.
Smith has a lot of potential, but he is far from a polished prospect at this point. He could go as high as the late first round, but he would make more sense between the mid second round and the mid third round. He has not been a full-time starter, but more of a rotational player at Mississippi State, so it will be interesting to see if he can ramp up his snaps in the NFL. Smith likely projects as more of a 3-4 linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end. He could also possibly play inside on the D-line if he can improve his inside moves.
Cowboys? Saints? Colts? It’s hard to project who might take Preston because most teams have a need for pass rushers, and we don’t know if he will play inside in a 4-3 zone or as an OLB in a 3-4. Any of the aforementioned teams could use a pass rusher like Smith, and he could find success with any of them. I give the edge to the Saints now that they have Seattle’s first-round pick. They could take Smith there.