The arrival of NIL had many college football pontificators — including myself — imagining a world where the impregnable grip that the same eight teams had on all the blue chip talent coming out of high school started to loosen up. And while the top-rated 5-star recruits have started to proliferate to schools outside the usual blue bloods, for the most part the highest ranked recruiting teams of the past 20 years are still the highest ranked recruiting teams.
Thanks to the portal, however, those schools’ vise-like grip on the talent is starting to slip. Talented high schoolers who bet on themselves beating out the incumbents at those elite recruiting schools — and still finding themselves buried on the depth chart — now have the chance to give other schools a shot, thinning out the massive talents that your Alabamas, Ohio States, and Georgias have over the rest of the country.
Speaking of Georgia: say hello to former Bulldog edge rusher Darris Smith!
Smith was a special teamer during his freshman campaign of 2022 and then only saw defensive action in 30 snaps over three games this past year. He doesn’t have much in the way of stats or tape but isn’t that far removed from high school and, oh yeah, had a front seat view of a national title winning program.
Where He Fits: In Georgia’s 3-4 defense Smith was an outside linebacker, sometimes called a “Jack” or “Joker” or “School’s Mascot Animal”... essentially a guy who was in position standing up like a linebacker but whose sole role was to bring pressure against the quarterback like a defensive lineman. In Blake Baker’s scheme, he will almost certainly line up as a defensive end, and by doing so he represents a rare type of defensive player under the Drinkwitz era: a pure pass rusher.
Isaiah McGuire, D.J. Jackson, Darius Robinson, Johnny Walker... all those dudes were defensive ends who use their size and strength to crush in on the offensive line and catch the quarterback between a collapsing pocket on all sides. Nyles Gaddy was the first payer brought in who’s style of play is more akin to straight up beating the tackle, getting around him, and causing pressure as an individual instead of contributing to a pressure by committee approach.
Smith definitely fits that latter style. Watching his high school Hudl film and the few plays he’s had in college shows a guy who has the moves to beat a tackle one-on-one and harass the quarterback by himself effectively. With he and Gaddy rotating throughout the game, Mizzou should have a legitimate pass rushing threat at all times.
When He’ll Play: Blake Baker loves to do two things with his defense: create pressure and play a deep rotation. As I say in most of these transfer situations, a player tends to not leave a situation where he’s buried on the depth chart for a different school where he’ll still be buried on the depth chart, so it’s a safe assumption Smith will play.
Will he start? Probably not, but “starting” is not really a heavily weighted status in Baker’s defense. To wit, Missouri’s top four interior linemen played 394, 391, 360, and 353 snaps on the year, while Mizzou’s top three defensive ends played 580, 466, and 327 snaps so far this season. If Smith is worthy of being included in the rotation, he’ll get similar snap counts as the nominal starter.
The Stat Stuff: As previously stated, Smith played 30 defensive snaps over two years, all of which occurred this year. He has 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass defensed, and averages 2.1 yards given up per tackle. We’re looking at some of the smallest of small sample sizes possible here so don’t read too much into it.
What It All Means: When you look at the 2024 roster, this team clearly needed a running back or two, a few offensive lineman, some edge rushers, a linebacker, and a corner from the portal. Mizzou has gone down the list and checked most of these boxes already, and Smith checks the box for edge rusher.
He’s talented and was unable to see the field for one of the most talented defenses in the country. He’ll be a welcome addition to Mizzou and is in a great position where he can contribute without having to be “the guy”.