Eric Smith might be at his best in a nickel linebacker role. On obvious passing downs, the Jets drop him down close to the line. This year Brodney Pool has usually come in to take Smith's safety spot when this has happened.
Smith is an ideal guy for this spot in a subpackage. He does not need to cover the whole field. He usually takes on linebacker coverage responsibilities. While his issues in coverage are well documented, he is better than the average linebacker in coverage. On many plays, the linebacker is responsible for less or at least less critical things. Smith is also better than the average safety against the run and getting off blocks so the team loses less than it would simply dropping a traditional safety.
It will be interesting to see how things work now that Jim Leonhard is out. Pool will not be able to take Smith's spot now to let Eric drop down. He will be starting for Leonhard. A year ago, the Jets still had Dwight Lowery so they could move Smitty closer to the line. Who might fill this role this year? Will the Jets simply abandon the concept and keep Smith at safety? I hope not. He is effective at linebacker.