Za’Darius Smith: 2015 Ravens Rookie Predictions


Perhaps the biggest wild card of all the Ravens 2015 draft choices, at least in terms of first year impact, is OLB/DE Za’Darius Smith.  Smith was a versatile, hybrid 4-3/3-4 defensive end in college, technically being listed as a 3-4 defensive end.  However, the Ravens could very well decide to transition him to outside linebacker in the NFL.

The ultimate position choice will have a tremendous effect on what sort of impact Smith will have as a rookie, and will determine his career projectory.  The Ravens brought back defensive end Chris Canty on a cheaper deal this offseason, but the 32 year old is more of a run stuffer at this point in his career. Perhaps the Ravens see Smith as a rotational end who can eventually take over from Canty in a year or two.

It would be his best bet for playing time, as both Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil figure to hog snaps at outside linebacker once again this season.  Smith isn’t the pass rush threat that those two are, though he did rack up 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last season and 6 sacks/6.5 TFL in 2013.

Helping his cause, Smith is adept at setting the edge and holding his gap, something that Courtney Upshaw has taken care of for the Ravens over the last three seasons.  Of course, Upshaw is going to slide into the old Pernell McPhee role, so perhaps Smith will take over in run support on early downs.

Longer term, if Upshaw does depart in free agency next season, Za’Darius Smith might be viewed as the long term successor to McPhee.  The only problem is that Smith isn’t very fast (4.83 40) or very athletic (29 inch vertical, 9’5″ broad jump).  He made a name for himself in college thanks to his relentless motor and try hard playing style.

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So what sort of first year impact can we expect from Za’Darius Smith?  I don’t foresee him making much of an impact as a pass rusher, but there are snaps to be earned at DE.  Chris Canty has regressed and was a little injury prone last season, so he could work his way into a rotational role.

With that said, 30-40 tackles and 2-3 sacks would be a nice goal for the fourth round pick.  I believe that the Ravens will try and get Smith as many snaps as possible this season to prepare him for a larger role next season, a la Timmy Jernigan.  All he has to do is show well this preseason, and there is a significant role waiting for him in the future.

Next: Is Courtney Upshaw a goner in 2016?

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