The Buffalo Bills’ defense was inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts weren’t able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Jaylon Smith was projected as a top-10 draft pick, but suffered a gruesome knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl that could cause him to miss the entire 2016 season. Smith was one of the more highly touted draft prospects over the last two years, as the 6’2” 235-pound linebacker showcased unreal athleticism, physicality against the run and the range necessary to be an every-down player in today’s NFL.
Smith can play every linebacker position, but projects best to the weak-side in a 4-3 or a “Jack” inside ‘backer in a 3-4 front. In his three seasons with the Fighting Irish, Jaylon Smith recorded 192 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups, 14 QB hurries and three forced fumbles.
Previous Prospect Breakdowns
Jaylon Smith Athleticism/Physical Tools
Jaylon Smith was Notre Dame’s primary playmaker over the last two years, as his athleticism, physicality and speed allowed the team to move him around. On any given snap, Smith would potentially line up as a MIKE, a weak-side linebacker, in the slot or as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt. Smith is a twitchy athlete that has great burst and packs a punch when moving downhill, but also has the lateral agility to cover a lot of ground in the run and pass game.
Jaylon Smith Run Support
Jaylon Smith will get hyped as a great coverage linebacker because of his athleticism, but to me, he was at his best when playing the run. He’s physical and flashes the ability to stack and shed lead blockers or offensive linemen that get to the second level. In the following play against Southern California, Jaylon Smith takes on the tight end that gets out to seal him off. Smith is able to work around the block and make the tackle for a stop.
Against Stanford, Jaylon Smith shows this ability again, this time against a center. Smith explodes downfield, engages the lineman and uses his hands to get off the block and is able to bring down the running back for a short gain.
In addition to having the physicality to take on lead blockers, Jaylon Smith does a good job sifting through trash and scraping over the top of the defensive line, again using his hands, lateral movement skills and closing burst to make plays as a run-and-chase player.
Watching Jaylon Smith, he doesn’t seem to be the most instinctive player, as he has a poor habit of waiting for the play to develop and taking a false step, but he has the athletic ability necessary to *hide* that aspect of his game.
Jaylon Smith Coverage Ability
Jaylon Smith has the speed and range to run with tight ends and running backs in man coverage and the range to buzz down to the flats. He’s often used as a “spy” against teams with mobile quarterbacks as he has a fluid backpedal but can change direction and close on a running passer.
Here against Texas, Smith drops into coverage in the flat but sees the quarterback looking to escape the pocket and is able to chase him down.
In the following play, Smith drops into a shallow zone before doing the same thing.
Smith can be slow to process route combinations at times, but his athleticism lets him get away with a lot of missteps in zone coverage. In the following play against Stanford, Smith sniffs out a dump pass to the running back and makes a tackle in traffic.
Jaylon Smith Pass Rush
Notre Dame used Jaylon Smith as an edge rusher in most third-and-long situations, and while he’s a strong and powerful athlete with great speed, he’ll need to develop a pass rush move to be effective at the next level. In college he was able to simply overwhelm his opponents with his explosiveness, but he showed absolutely no wiggle or bend as a blitzer.
Potential Fit With Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills need an impact player on defense and with Nigel Bradham set to become an unrestricted free agent, Jaylon Smith could be that guy if he checks out medically. I personally don’t see the top-5 player that most are touting him as, but he definitely has the physical traits and baseline knowledge of the various roles within multiple fronts that could potentially be coached up to be that type of player.