If you peruse around the NFL wing of SB Nation (and why wouldn't you?), you're probably well aware that draft prep is in full swing. With Mizzou players once again in demand (hasn't this recent stretch been quite nice?), NFL bloggers and fans having been asking for insight on next string of Tigers to test the NFL waters. I've tried to add my thoughts in this post, but a range of opinions from the community would be greatly appreciated to help paint a full picture for visiting readers. Add your thoughts in the comments.
MEASUREMENTS: 6'5", 260 pounds, 4.60-4.79 40-yard dash, Pre-combine bench/squat numbers unknown
TWITTER SUMMARY: Explosive athlete and ferocious pass rusher, but is his best fit at the next level standing up or with a hand on the ground?
STATS, STATS, STATS: Year-by-year stats at Missouri:
2010 (RSSo.): 10 games played, 48 tackles (34 solo), 10.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 1 INT (58-yard return), 1 forced fumble
2009 (RSFr.): 13 games played, 64 tackles (44 solo), 19.0 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks (school record), 5 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovered
THINGS THE PROS GET RIGHT:
NFL talent evaluators are in love with Smith's length and his ability to get after quarterbacks, and as Mizzou fans can attest, both served Missouri well in his two seasons in Columbia. Smith really was a prototype Big 12 pass rusher: Talented enough to quickly work upfield against quarterbacks primarily starting in the shotgun, but also athletic enough to operate efficiently in space. He makes great use of his hands, and for a player of his build, he doesn't seem to struggle shedding blocks as much as one might expect.
At the moment, his repertoire of moves probably isn't as expansive as it needs to be for the NFL level for two reasons: 1) The moves he had were good enough at the college level that there wasn't much need to develop others, and 2) He only played for two seasons. Smith has never been much of a bull rusher, and his inside move will be something to watch as his career develops. The quintessential Aldon Smith play usually involved a Deacon Jones-like right hand swat off the line of scrimmage, a move to the outside, and a footrace to the quarterback. So, basically, it looked a lot like this:
The pros may also have valid points on a number of concerns. For all of his dominance in two years, Smith can still tread along the dividing line between "defensive end" and "pure athlete." His sack numbers are somewhat padded from incredible performances against teams that struggled to matchup with Aldon athletically (3.0 career sacks vs. Illinois, 2.5 career sacks vs. Kansas State, 3.0 sacks in one game vs. Colorado). No one seems to question the talent. The question will be how properly refined it will be.
THINGS THE PROS GET WRONG:
NFL types seem 100 percent ready to stand Smith up, and while I certainly appreciate the concept, I think I might be slightly more concerned about the transition than most. For all of his explosiveness, most of Smith's success has come when he's been able to stay low and use leverage instead of sheer strength to gain the advantage. Scouts have noticed that he could sometimes work his way into trouble by playing too high. Would having Aldon stand up prior to each snap rob him of part of what has made him successful?
Also, he bears the burden of proof in pass coverage. Aldon was extremely solid moving laterally across the line of scrimmage during his career, but he was never really expected to open his hips, turn and run. He may be able to do it just fine; it's just hard to say definitively from the sample size we have. His lone career interception was a diagnosed screen thrown directly at him, and his seven pass breakups generally came at the line of scrimmage, where he was disruptive upfield, not in coverage.
NON-FOOTBALL THING YOU MAY FIND ENDEARING/CHARMING/INTERESTING:
The man we know as Aldon is apparently known to others as "Jacarus," according to Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune:
Smith's extended family knows him by his middle name, Jacarus. In fact, when his grandmother watched last year's Illinois game on TV, she called her son, Smith's father, to ask why Jacarus wasn't playing. "Well, he's making all those tackles," Thurston Smith told her. "They know him as Aldon." Smith said he considered going by Jacarus this season rather than Aldon but figured it would be too confusing, especially with Jacquies Smith also lined up at defensive end.
"Aldon Jacarus Smith" is actually an anagram for "A Calm Adjourns Hits." NFL franchises, you may now begin running your draft card to the commissioner.
TOTAL SUMMARY GRADING OF OVER/UNDERRATED:
If you're drafting Aldon Smith based on the player you're getting immediately, then I think I'd have to disagree slightly on his Top 15 consensus. But if you're drafting Aldon Smith based on what he could become with more coaching, more strength and more experience, I think he may be somewhat undervalued. He's good enough that he is by no means "a project pick," but there is certainly a layer of unexplored possibilities for some defensive coordinator to unwrap come next football season (you know, if there is one).
I CAN HAZ LINKS? Yes, you can:
Make sure to watch Aldon Smith at the NFL Scouting Combine on NFL Network, Feb. 24 - March 1.