On Saturday, the Jets signed defensive tackle Tanzel Smart to the active roster for his final game of the season after having elevated him from the practice squad for two games earlier in the season. Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.
The 26-year old is listed at 6’1” and 295 pounds and was a sixth round pick out of Tulane in 2017. Smart has played in 33 NFL games, with four starts, mostly with the Rams. He has 22 tackles, a pass defensed and a quarterback hit.
Smart was a three-star high school recruit who eventually enrolled at Tulane in 2013. After spending a year as a rotational reserve, Smart started 36 games in a row over the next three years and increased his statistical production each year.
In his last two seasons, Smart was an all-conference first team selection in the American conference as he racked up 33 tackles for loss across those two years. He had career highs in tackles (68) and sacks (5.5) in his senior year.
Smart attended the senior bowl and the scouting combine, establishing himself as a potential late round pick. He was selected by the Rams in the sixth round and made their roster as a reserve.
In his rookie year, Smart showed some promise by earning four starts and recording 13 tackles, a hit and a pass defensed. However, he was somewhat inconsistent.
He has a healthy scratch for most of the 2018 season and only recorded seven tackles in 13 games in 2019.
This season, Smart was with the Bills in training camp but failed to make their final roster and then spent a couple of weeks on the Browns’ practice squad in September. Eventually, the Jets signed him to their practice squad in October, since which time he’s been elevated for the week 9 game against New England and last Sunday’s win over the Rams. They signed him to the active roster on Saturday.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Smart brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Smart lacks ideal size and length and most of his combine workout numbers were underwhelming. He ran a 5.24 in the 40-yard dash and posted disappointing explosiveness numbers and only 22 bench press reps. However, his agility numbers were good.
At his pro day, Smart tried to improve his numbers but failed to do so for the most part. He shaved 0.02 off his 40-yard dash and improved his bench press to 25 reps.
Smart’s main role in college was as a 3-technique defensive tackle, although he would sometimes move to the nose in pass rushing packages.
With the Rams, Smart backed up at tackle, end and nose. Most of his playing time as a rookie was on the inside.
Smart brings good energy and is regarded as the kind of player who never takes a play off. He’ll keep battling in the trenches to the whistle, although he can get stuck on blocks and needs a better approach to freeing himself up at times.
On this play, the quarterback gets rid of the ball before Smart (#92) can get home, but he hustles back into the play.
At the NFL level, he’s never really had to demonstrate he can handle a starter’s workload. He played 42 snaps in one game but that’s the only time over 30. However, in college, there was one game where he was on the field for 100 defensive snaps.
Smart has struggled in the running game thus far in his career, primarily because he lacks the size and strength to hold up at the point of attack. When forced to play the nose tackle role, he was too often overwhelmed by double teams.
However, when he’s single-blocked Smart has a quick get off and the ability to win an early leverage advantage to make plays.
He has shown flashes that suggest he is capable of making plays against a double team but needs to prove he can be more consistent with this.
In college, Smart was extremely productive in the running game so this is an area where he has the potential to make an impact if he can learn to cope with the physical demands of the role.
Smart generated some good production as a pass rusher in his senior year in college, racking up 5.5 sacks and generating a pressure about once every 8.5 rush attempts. However, he’s struggled to produce at the same kind of rate at the pro level.
He had several pressures in his rookie year, but since then has had just one pressure in over 100 pass rush attempts. While he’s been more productive in preseason action, he still doesn’t have any sacks and his pressure rate is still low.
Smart combines a decent get-off with an ability to use his low center of gravity to drive his man back on a bull rush.
However, he has a limited arsenal of pass rush moves and has yet to display he can come up with a plan or react and counter when his first move is repelled. He can close well when he gets a clean path to the quarterback though.
Smart is a player that has active feet and hands. He can be effective with his first punch, keeps a solid base under him and displays some good hand-fighting to free himself up to separate or earn a leverage advantage.
However, he can get outmuscled at the point of attack and will find it hard to battle back into the play in such situations.
As a pass rusher, he is most effective with the bull rush but needs to work at his other moves because he is often stonewalled by his blocker.
Smart has had some good production as a tackler and only generally missed a handful of tackles per season in college but he has a tendency to come in too high, which can lead to the runner generating yards by driving or falling forwards at the end of the run.
On this play, he is unable to react in time to the cutback run and misses the tackle on the edge.
Smart hardly ever drops into coverage although he did in his first ever game with Tulane, giving up the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
He does a good job of getting his hands up to contest passes on the rush, but he lacks length so he doesn’t bat down passes very often. He had two in his college career and hasn’t had one in the NFL since this one on his debut.
Smart tries to live up to his name by paying attention to details and working hard to know his role and responsibilities.
In college, he impressed with his ability to quickly diagnose and react to screen passes.
At the NFL level, Smart’s primary contributions have been as a blocker on the kickoff return unit. He was up and down in terms of his effectiveness within this role but did make some positive contributions.
In college, Smart was often employed rushing kicks, although he wasn’t credited with any kick blocks. He did block three kicks in high school though.
Like most of the recent additions to this team, Smart is a player who has good character and is spoken highly of by his former coaches and teammates.
He’s humble, but a hard worker with good leadership abilities and a desire to improve. Smart’s maturity and approach to staying in shape and knowing his role contributed to him making it into the NFL after he was slightly overweight earlier on in his college career.
He did get embroiled with in a heated scuffle with Ethan Pocic during practice at the senior bowl, though.
Smart played in 48 of 48 games while he was at Tulane so he didn’t have any injury problems in college. With the Rams, he had missed 17 games in three seasons but all of these seem to be as a healthy scratch.
Smart was drafted by the Rams after Gregg Williams left although there may have been elements of his system still in place after his departure, much as there are with the current Jets team.
He’s clearly most effective in a 3-technique role because his size is detrimental to his effectiveness at nose tackle and his athleticism affects how disruptive he can be on the edge, but he could settle into a versatile rotational role.
He has been teammates with current Jets John Frankin-Myers, Bryce Hager and Sam Ficken while with the Rams.
Smart has presumably been signed to the roster with a deal that runs through 2021 and he may or may not get a chance to see some more action in Sunday’s game against New England.
Whether or not he gets a chance to play, hopefully Smart is back for training camp next year because he’s a high character player who works hard to overcome his physical limitations by working at being a technician.