What position will Za’Darius Smith play?
Figuring out what position fourth round draft choice Za’Darius Smith will play might be the biggest question mark of the offseason for the Ravens. A hybrid 3-4/4-3 defensive end at Kentucky, Smith could push veteran Chris Canty for snaps at defensive end, or he could be worked in as a situational pass rushing outside linebacker.
Opinions on where Smith will ultimately line up are as varied as it gets. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley expects him to take over Pernell McPhee’s old role, noting that the Ravens like his upside as a pass rusher. The Ravens also reportedly feel that Smith is further along in his development than McPhee was as a rising rookie.
The problem is Smith’s limited athleticism and speed. He ran a mediocre 4.83 40 at the NFL Combine, recording a similarly blah 29 inch vertical and 9’5″ broad jump. Smith had limited success as a pass rusher in college, tallying 10.5 sacks over the last two seasons. He does project to be a sufficient two down run defender in the NFL.
The Ravens seem intent on giving Smith a shot at a pass rushing role, at least for now, as John Harbaugh’s recent comments indicate.
"“The physicality, the heavy hands, the high motor. He’s got pass-rush ability – even maybe more than we saw from Pernell coming out – he’s got hips and gets around blocks. If he develops like Pernell, we’re really going to have something. He’s a great young man. He’s a very hard worker and he plays really hard, so those were all characteristics Pernell had as well.”"
I’m skeptical that Smith can make an impact as a pass rusher this coming season, but stranger things have happened. One thing’s for sure – if he’s ultimately going to wind up playing end, he will need to add some weight. Smith is a bit undersized at 274 pounds.
Next: How quickly can Breshad Perriman develop?
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