Last month, the Jets claimed offensive tackle Eric Smith off New England’s practice squad. While he was inactive in the last few games of the season, Smith was signed to a contract that runs through 2019 according to OverTheCap.com so we’re going to review his potential.
The 23-year old Smith, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, was undrafted out of Virginia in 2017. He spent his rookie year with the Miami Dolphins, although he didn’t get into a game. Smith was released in final cuts in September and spent most of the season on the Patriots’ practice squad before the Jets poached him a few weeks ago.
Smith was a three year starter for the Cavaliers and developed well over the course of his career before being a late invitation to play in the senior bowl. However, he wasn’t invited to attend the scouting combine and was considered a long-shot to be drafted.
Having not been selected in the 2017 draft, Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dolphins and impressed early on in camp by holding his own against some veteran players.
After an excellent performance in preseason, Smith made the 53-man roster, but was a healthy scratch for the first month and then suffered a knee injury in practice that landed him on injured reserve. He was activated from the injured reserve list with a few weeks to go in the season but didn’t get a chance to make his debut and then was released in final cuts after the 2018 preseason.
New England immediately added him to their practice squad, but the Jets poached him for their active roster in December, although he remained inactive to the end of the year.
Now let’s look at what Smith brings to the table, divided into categories.
Although he’s only listed as 300 pounds, Smith actually weighed in at 312 for his pro day and does seem to have a big and strong frame.
At his pro day, he posted below average numbers with a 5.39 40-yard dash, 23.5-inch vertical and 100-inch broad jump, but his bench press (26 reps) was above average.
Pre-draft scouting reports indicate that Smith can be susceptible to the inside move, but he was unable to prove his ability to recover at his pro day because he pulled a hamstring and couldn’t participate in the agility drills.
Smith has mostly played as a right tackle but has seen time as a left tackle as well, both at college and in preseason action with the Dolphins.
Interestingly, he was projected as a guard in most places leading up to the 2017 draft, but he struggled in that role at the senior bowl and has only ever played the tackle positions with Miami.
Smith had some good pass protection numbers at Virginia where he only gave up five sacks in 32 games and didn’t give up a lot of pressure. However, that’s been attributed in part to the pass protection sets that the Cavaliers used.
Smith has also held up reasonably well in pass protection at the NFL level, although he gave up two sacks in eight preseason games.
His best attributes are that he is light on his feet and aggressive with his initial thrust to slow rushers down. However, he can over-rely on that at times and if defensive ends are able to counter it, they’re often able to gain and exploit a leverage advantage.
At times, he can have problems with bull rushes, which led to one of the sacks he gave up in preseason and this pressure.
Smith is an aggressive run blocker and the first thing that jumps out about him is how he’ll keep hustling to the whistle. On several occasions where he lost control of his block or couldn’t find a target in space, he kept working and found someone to get a hit on:
Smith looks pretty good in motion, although he doesn’t always find a target in space. However, once he locks onto a block, Smith can overpower smaller players and drive them out of the play:
At the point of attack, Smith is strong and can re-anchor if moved off his spot. However, his pad level can be too high from time to time.
As already noted, while he needs to stay consistent with his pad level, Smith has decent footwork and he’ll keep his feet and hands working to try and stay on a block.
Where his technique can let him down at times is that he’ll sometimes lunge after a block in space and overbalance and he also has a tendency to duck his head in pass protection, which can make it easy for defenders to create separation:
Penalties haven’t been a major issue for Smith, who had 12 in his college career with never more than five in a season.
In preseason action, he’s had three penalties in eight games. Two of these were for holding and the other one saw him light up an opposing player at the end of a play to draw a flag for unnecessary roughness.
Smith doesn’t figure to be much of a contributor on special teams as he only generally played on the blocking unit for placekick attempts in college and preseason action.
Some of Smith’s coaches in Miami have praised his intelligence and how quickly he picked up the nuances of the offense despite coming in as an undrafted free agent.
While he didn’t seem to be prone to mental errors in his preseason footage, he did mess up on this stunt, allowing the tackle to get upfield for a sack:
Smith is a determined character, who obviously plays with a physical and aggressive style which leads to plenty of hustle plays and knockdown blocks:
However, he also works hard off the field to learn the playbook and his assignments. When he was injured as a rookie, he said his game benefited from the mental reps he was getting at that time.
Off the field, his demeanor is loose and relaxed and he seems to be popular among his teammates.
Injuries weren’t an issue for Smith in college, as he started the last 32 games of his career. However, he landed on injured reserve in 2017 with a knee injury.
He also had a hamstring injury which prevented him from participating in a full pro day workout.
It’s difficult to say how well Smith would fit into the Jets’ system without knowing who will be coaching the offense. However, there are a handful of linemen from Virginia in the NFL, so hopefully that’s a sign he has a good chance to adjust to the pro game.
While he was never a high-rising draft prospect, Smith looks the part and showed steady progress throughout his college career. Having come into the NFL and looked so good at the outset, he seemed like a player with a promising future. However, the knee injury set him back and he didn’t get any opportunities to play in a regular season game with Miami.
His 2018 preseason was not as impressive as his rookie campaign, which led to him not making the Dolphins roster. However, New England saw enough in him to stash him on their practice squad for almost the entire season.
By sneaking in to pick up his rights just before the end of the season, the Jets can afford themselves an extended look at Smith to see if he has a better chance of developing into a contributor than any of their other young linemen.
It seems unlikely that he could push Brandon Shell for a starting role, but perhaps Smith will show enough potential that he can stick around and develop into a possible contributor down the road if they can refine his technique a little.