Za’Darius Smith: Potential Steal of 2015 Baltimore Ravens Draft


The Baltimore Ravens just wrapped up a beautiful draft, in which the value of their board meshed almost perfectly with the needs on the team. It was also one of their more offense-centric drafts, possibly since the 2008 draft that netted QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice. There was certainly a lot to love, but I definitely had a favorite pick.

It wasn’t Breshad Perriman out of UCF, who could be the next Dez Bryant or Julio Jones. It wasn’t Maxx Williams, the Jason Witten clone who should have definitely been taken way before the 55th pick. It wasn’t even Carl Davis, who had no right to be hanging around during the third round and is highly motivated to outperform his draft status.

No, out of the entire draft, grabbing OLB/DE Za’Darius Smith in the 4th round with the 122nd overall pick was the most Ravens-like choice of this draft.

Za’Darius Smith has been knocked for average athleticism and lack of true pass rush ability, but according to John Harbaugh, Smith looks like a souped up Pernell McPhee at the same point in their respective careers: a strong run stuffer with even more obvious pass rush. However, many people seem to think he will never be more than a high-effort, high-character backup in the NFL.

I looked at his 2014 tape against Mississippi State to get a better feel for his ability. At the 0:08 mark, Smith sheds the left tackle to the outside and gets to the quarterback, who passes early enough to avoid the pressure. At the 0:33 mark, Smith is situated in the gap of the zone-blocking scheme. He does not hesitate, flying downhill for the tackle for loss. Smith is also capable of actual sacks off the edge; at the 3:16 mark, he uses his heavy hands to bull rush the left tackle backwards, disengages, and drops the quarterback.

There’s also reason for criticism in his tape. At the 4:40 mark, Smith is forced backwards, trips over his own pancaked teammate, and makes no impact on the play other than looking ungraceful. As 4:53 shows, he is late off the snap, and has poor acceleration. As 9:20 shows, he does not have the sideline to sideline speed to affect plays away from him.

Za’Darius Smith did not line up as an inside pass rusher like McPhee did for the Ravens while at Kentucky, thus it is uncertain whether he can do more than set the edge and hustle his way to effort sacks off the edge. It is clear, however, that the Baltimore Ravens believe Za’Darius Smith is capable of significant development.

If so, they may have a bona fide steal on their hands. If not, then they will have another Courtney Upshaw type who can bully tight ends and set the tone against the run. With Upshaw potentially leaving in free agency next year, the Ravens could have his replacement, and maybe even more.

Next: Can Maxx Williams Have An Instant Impact with the Baltimore Ravens?

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