Sean Smith is the best defensive back in the draft. Most definitely. All those other DB's would take second place in a loser contest. They'd have to look for their game in the lost and found.
"My biggest weakness? I can’t really tell you if I have a weakness. We played a variety of defenses. I’m very experienced in man and in zone. I can’t tell you if I have a weakness or not." [National Football Post]
Sean Smith is a very confident guy. I guess when you're the starting safety for an undefeated team, and you're 6'4" and 215 lbs.—and you've never played a down in the NFL—you tend to be that way. I wonder if he's read this: "Thinks he's better than he is; willing to talk trash to anyone with ears." [Draft Ace]
On the other hand, confidence is a good quality in a defensive back. If he can prove his self-confidence is grounded in reality, Sean Smith may go far. Mike Mayock, in fact, compared him to Hall of Famer Mel Blount during coverage of the Combine. No wonder this kid is confident.
40-yard dash: 4.53
225-lb. bench: 10
Sean Smith was a wide receiver before becoming a ball-hawking cornerback for the undefeated Utes. (Photo Source)
Sean Smith is in much the same position as Malcolm Jenkins, without the stigma of failure. Jenkins was projected as the best cornerback in the draft before the expert consensus had him moving to safety in the NFL. Smith, on the other hand, is moving up the charts as a safety, despite playing as a cornerback in college.
When you compare them on paper, it's hard to see why. What really stands out is that Smith is taller. But he's only marginally heavier, so his build is much less solid than Jenkins'; he's only marginally faster; and he's demonstrated a marked weakness in comparison to Jenkins, who out-bench pressed him 15 to 10 at the Combine. In 2008, Smith had 5 interceptions, while Jenkins had 4. Each returned one for a touchdown. Smith had 45 tackles, including 2 for loss (with one sack and one forced fumble); Jenkins had 47 tackles, including 5 for loss.
Yet Jenkins' stock has been dropping—supposedly for a slow 40 time that was only .02 of a second slower than Smith's—while Smith has been shooting up the boards. Maybe that's because a lot of people assumed from the beginning that Smith would be an NFL safety. And a lot of people seem convinced that he'll be a damn good one, at that.
''Smith is an excellent athlete with great size-speed (4.52) combination...reads the quarterback and breaks quickly to get outside and help cornerbacks on deep routes, and is able to close quickly on passes in front of him. With very good backpedaling speed, Smith is adept at reading the QB's eyes. While he has good, not great, recovery speed, he does not get sucked in by play action and has the speed and agility to get to areas in a hurry...also has great burst to finish, making strong tackles. Smith is a very good run defender who has the instincts and speed to chase down runners.'' [FFToolbox.com]
Oh really? "[Smith] doesn’t possess a fluid backpedal, but transitions with receivers vertically, locates the ball and uses his athleticism to make a play. He has good awareness, but isn’t a physical player who defends the run well." [Scout.com]
You sure? "Can jam receivers with a hard punch to slow their release. Is able to stay with the receiver right from the line of scrimmage. Can cut and make the play on quick slants. Shows the ability to make the interception. Comes up the field quickly on screen passes and running plays and will make hard tackles." [Sporting News]
Are there two Sean Smiths?
For the most part, I've tried to be as objective as possible throughout this series of draft reports. In this case, though, I'm going to deliver an untested (and, yeah, unqualified) opinion. I don't think Sean Smith has what it takes to be the next Sean Taylor, the next Troy Polamalu, the next Brian Dawkins. He's not the enforcer-type, making his rep with big hits; nor is he the versatile rover back, lining up and coming from all points of the compass. If that's what we're looking for, we'd better look elsewhere—unless Smith develops some latent talent that nobody has noticed yet.
But what he may turn out to be is the next Ken Houston: a tall, rangy, ball-hawking centerfielder who is every opposing quarterback's nightmare. Because his real talent is catching the ball.
"Ball Skills: Greatest strength. Played receiver earlier in career. Attacks the ball and fights for jump balls. Rarely drops passes gets hands on and flashes the ability to make spectacular catches." [ESPN]
"Former receiver has great ball skills and the vertical to go up and get the ball. … Able to locate and high-point in coverage. … Elusive runner with some vision to flip field position after the interception." [NFLDraftScout.com]
"Elite ball skills (played wide receiver until midway through 2006 season)." [DraftAce.com]
Not convinced yet? Watch this. And then, imagine how sweet it would be to watch Steve Smith pouting on the bench because he couldn't outjump Sean Smith for the ball.
Sporting News compares Smith to Detroit's Anthony Henry, but they're still thinking cornerback. Even Mayock's essentially valid comparison to Blount (he was actually only comparing their builds) still contrasts Smith to a cornerback. So what current safety does he compare to? Possibly Deon Grant of Seattle. This is a scouting report on Grant from 2000:
Positives: Has excellent size and great range against the pass in coverage. Has tremendous ball skills for a defensive back as well as exceptional hands. Can and has played wide receiver. A real ballhawk who makes big plays. Has a chance to get much better. Is so fast, fluid and athletic that he might be able to play cornerback.
Negatives: Jumped the gun by declaring for the draft as a third-year junior. Needs to get tougher and to become a much better tackler and a much more consistent hitter. Is slow to support against the run and misses a lot of tackles. Will often duck his head when tackling. [Pro Football Weekly]
Sounds almost like they're talking about Sean Smith.
WHAT'S THE UPSHOT?
Everyone is pretty much agreed: Sean Smith will play free safety in the NFL. Odds are Malcolm Jenkins will, too. Who is the better prospect for the Saints?
Overall, probably still Jenkins. But if Jenkins isn't available at #14—or if the Saints trade down in the first—Sean Smith becomes a legitimate prospect.
• We already know that Smith is a very confident young man. So who does he compare himself to?
"Nnamdi Asomugha from the Raiders. He’s a tall corner like myself. He dominated this year. QBs are afraid to throw the ball his way. Between him and the play-making ability of (Antonio) Cromartie with his instincts when the ball is in the air.., I think I’m a combination of those two." [National Football Post]
• Smith was an All-American high school player for Blair High School in California...as a running back. In his senior season he had over 1,500 yards and 18 TDs, along with 547 receiving yards and over 400 yards in kickoff returns. Could this be the back that Sean Payton craves?