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Brandon Smith’s Rugged Versatility Helps Create ‘Sky-High Potential’ At NFL Level

When Brandon Smith came to Happy Valley back in 2019, he arrived as a five-star recruit from Virginia with high expectations. In fact, the linebacker stepped foot on campus as the eighth-highest rated recruit in program history, according to 247Sports’ rankings.

Smith showcased his athleticism and hard-hitting style during his three-year career as a Nittany Lion. In his first game at Penn State, the linebacker immediately made his presence felt with a hit-stick-like tackle against Idaho.

After serving as a backup during his true freshman season, Smith stepped into a starting role the next season after the departures of Jan Johnson, Cam Brown, and Micah Parsons from the team. He went through his fair share of growing pains during his first year as a starter, which is to be expected for a first-time starter. However, the 2020 season served as a springboard for what would be a much improved 2021 campaign.

Smith totaled 81 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble during his final season as a Nittany Lion. Additionally, his coverage prowess was on full display, as he had five passes defended over the course of the season. Smith’s coverage skills have stood out to NFL draft “experts” during the evaluation process.

Bleacher Report calls Smith “comfortable” in man-to-man coverage while praising his spacing and eye placement in zone coverage. Additionally, NFLDraftBuzz raved about the linebacker’s ability to stick with tight ends down the field, calling Smith “great” in coverage.

It’s Smith’s coverage skills, paired with his intimidating frame and physical traits, that make him an intriguing NFL draft prospect. Similar to Odafe Oweh, whom the Ravens took in the first round of last year’s draft, Smith looks like he was made in a lab.

Standing at 6’3″, 250 pounds, Smith put on a clinic at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. He recorded a 4.52 40-yard dash, a 37.5-inch vertical, and a 128-inch broad jump, all of which ranked in the upper echelon among linebackers.

Analysts have gushed over Smith’s athleticism and physical traits, but like last year with Oweh, they have concerns over his rawness and general lack of production. The popular question is, why didn’t Smith dominate at the collegiate level with the pure athleticism and physical traits that he possesses?

NFL.com, along with Bleacher Report and NFLDraftBuzz, point to Smith’s inconsistent tackling as his most glaring weakness. Additionally, his overall technique has led to some apprehension from skeptics.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore the potential Smith has. If anything, Oweh’s early NFL success could benefit Smith’s stock as the draft approaches. Teams saw what happened when the Ravens took a raw, physical “freak” from Penn State in last year’s draft. Baltimore got immediate production from Oweh, as he posted 33 tackles, five sacks, and three forced fumbles during his rookie season.

Who’s to say Smith won’t make a similar impact in his first season? That’s not to say Oweh and Smith are the same type of player. They have different skill sets and play styles. However, they both fit the same mold when it comes to raw, athletic defensive players from Penn State. You know what they say — If the shoe fits, wear it.

Currently, Smith is generally seen as a third or fourth-round pick among analysts. NFL.com’s Chad Reuter has the Green Bay Packers picking Smith in the fourth round with the No. 132 overall pick in his mock draft, while Luke Easterling of DraftWire has Smith going in the third round to the New York Giants with the No. 81 overall pick.

Bleacher Report gives Smith a 7.3 grade, which equates to a third-round pick that has the chance to be a “high-level backup/potential starter.” The folks over at NFLDraftBuzz are higher on Smith than most, as they have him rated as the third-best linebacker, have a second-round grade on him, and say he has “sky-high potential.”

Whichever team takes Smith will be gambling on the potential to blossom into production. However, teams may often recognize you can teach technique and form, but you can’t teach athleticism and freakish traits. Smith possesses the latter two, which makes him a fascinating prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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