Could a CB be Seattle’s first-round pick?

Published on March 23, 2011 by     Sports Press Northwest (Feed)

According to Tony Pauline of SI.com and TFY Draft Preview, the Seahawks have Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith very high on their draft board. We hear these kinds of rumors all the time, and most of them should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, but Pauline is pretty dialed in. While other teams have removed Smith from their boards for character concerns, Pauline writes that Seattle has Smith ranked highly enough to consider taking him in the first round.

The Seahawks currently have the 25th overall pick, which would take them out of the running for the two elite cornerbacks in this draft class, Patrick Peterson of LSU and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara. And below Smith, there are a few potential starters who might be grabbed in the second round like Miami’s Brandon Harris, Aaron Williams of Texas (who may project better as a free safety), Texas’ Curtis Brown, and UCLA safety Rahim Moore, who this writer believes could be one of the NFL’s best nickel cornerbacks in the right system.

But if the Seahawks want a first-round talent at the cornerback position, and they’re willing to take the character gamble to get a bargain with the 25th overall pick, Smith would be a very intriguing option for a pass defense that finished 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, allowed 7.2 yards per passing attempt, intercepted just 12 passes (tied for fourth-lowest in the league), gave up 31 touchdowns (tied for second-worst in the league), and 60 passes of 20 yards or more (only Denver was worse). With Marcus Trufant getting up there in age and Kelly Jennings still a question mark, it wouldn’t be surprising if Pete Carroll and John Schneider considered the cornerback position to be just as important on their first-round board as any other.

In 47 games for the Buffaloes, Smith put up three interceptions, 18 passes defensed, 164 tackles (129 solo), and three tackles for loss. As is the case with many elite cornerbacks (think of it as the “Nnamdi Asomugha Rule”), stats don’t always reflect performance on the field — the best pass defenders aren’t often targeted enough to put up wild numbers. What does the tape tell us?

Pros: Tall, angular build (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), and he has good trail speed and agility in space. In press man coverage, Smith locks on well from the snap with a jolt within 5 yards and the ability to tightly follow different routes. Takes slants and crosses well and doesn’t lose ground. Comes down hard on screen and swing passes to tackle and doesn’t get misdirected.

Good eye for sitting in zones and sensing where passes are going based on route concepts. A willing and physical tackler when he’s not blocked out of a play, and he’s very quick to diagnose run when he’s playing off-man or off-zone. Has the recovery speed and diagnostic skill to jump comeback routes. Boxes wideouts in well on nickel sets and has a good sense of what’s going around him in zones.

Cons: Not always an accurate tackler when bouncing off blocks, takes on blocks with a high-stance and can be “out-leveraged” fairly easily. His eagerness to play the run can lead to a tendency to bite on playfakes. Misses interception opportunities by batting the ball away at times. Can be a bit stiff in hip turn in shorter routes, but that’s typical of taller cornerbacks and it isn’t an enormous issue in his case.

Conclusion: Smith has been behind two big names at his position through the pre-draft process — LSU’s Patrick Peterson and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara. He’s kind of the middleman in that equation — not yet a true potential NFL shutdown corner prospect like Peterson, nor an interesting hybrid player who may project better to safety like Amukamara. As a result, Smith’s is a name you’ll be hearing more and more as draft analysts catch up to him from a tape-watching perspective, but scouts and teams certainly know what he’s capable of. A strong combine performance may bump him up a little bit, but he’s a very safe mid-first-round draft pick for any NFL team needing a bigger cornerback who can play man and zone and tackle well. Spreads out well against motion from run support to wide coverage.

The Cromartie comparison speaks to Smith’s height, weight, and basic athletic skill set, but he seems to be less boom-and-bust — we’ll just have to see if he can take that to the NFL (picking up a few more interceptions along the way). If he can do that, Jimmy Smith could wind up as one of the best first-round values of the 2011 draft.

NFL Comparison: Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets

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