Summary: A year ago, Illinois defensive line prospect Jihad Ward became a hot prospect in the leadup to the 2016 NFL Draft. While teams were studying Ward's college tape, sources said his teammate Smoot jumped out to them and was impossible to ignore. Smoot had a strong junior season in 2015 as he totaled eight sacks with 15 tackles for a loss, 40 tackles, two passes batted and three forced fumbles.
Smoot notched 56 tackles and 15 for a loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass batted in 2016, but also helped teammate Carroll Phillips to have a breakout season. Scouts said that Illinois head coach Lovie Smith and his staff prepared both well for the NFL.
For the NFL, Smoot would fit best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Sources say that Smoot is very athletic and explosive off the edge; however, they feel he is more disruptive than productive. Smoot is the kind of player who will rack up a lot of pressures on the quarterback, but not a huge sack total. Sources say he could be a more athletic and twitchier version of Whitney Mercilus, but not as natural of a pass-rusher as Mercilus.
Smoot is fast off the edge with the ability burn offensive tackles with his speed rush. He is adept at using his hands and feet at the same time to fight off blocks while working upfield. Smoot has a nice burst to close and some natural pad level to play low. He doesn't have great length, but he has functional strength with the ability to bull rush tackles into the pocket.
In run defense, Smoot is a tweener for a 4-3 defense. However, he is stronger and more stout than many players his size. He was a quality run defender to hold his ground and get in on tackles in the ground game. In a 3-4 defense, Smoot should be tough in the ground game lining up on the side of a five-technique defensive end.
In speaking to sources at multiple teams, they view Smoot as a mid- to late first-rounder. He shouldn't have a long wait if he slips to Round 2.
Player Comparison: Nick Perry. In conversations with scouts, they have compared Smoot to the Packers' Nick Perry. They have similar builds and body types along with having some speed and functional strength. Perry had three so-so seasons before breaking out in his fifth year with 11 sacks. Smoot could be a similar edge defender to Perry.
NFL Matches: Detroit, Miami, Oakland, New York Giants, Dallas, Green Bay, Atlanta, New England, New York Jets, New Orleans, Washington, Cincinnati and Arizona
There are a lot of potential fits for Smoot late in the first round or early in the second round. At pick No. 21, the Lions could consider Smoot as an end to pair with Ziggy Ansah. Detroit needs more edge rush across from Ansah and Smoot could be a safer selection.
Immediately after the Lions, the Dolphins are slated to pick, and they need youth at defensive end. Along with losing Olivier Vernon last offseason, Mario Williams and Cameron Wake are both nearing the end of their careers. Miami could definitely target an end in the first round.
The Raiders could consider another pass-rusher as Aldon Smith is not reliable. The Giants could lose Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins this offseason. Smoot could help New York on the outside.
Dallas needs defensive end help, especially with the suspension issues of Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence. Smoot could be a solid and safe first-round pick for the Cowboys.
The Packers could consider drafting an edge rusher as Julius Peppers is nearing the end of his great career and Nick Perry is hitting free agency. Smoot fits the mold of a lot of outside linebackers who Green Bay has targeted in the past.
At the very end of the first round, Smoot could be a possibility for the Super Bowl participants. Atlanta needs an end across from Vic Beasley, and Smoot could fill that void. New England could use more defensive end talent. Chris Long was only signed for the short term, and the Patriots need more pass rush as they were led by Trey Flowers with only seven sacks in the regular season.
If Smoot falls out of the first round, he shouldn't have a long wait. The Jets need more edge rush, and Smoot would be a good fit on the outside of their talented interior defensive line.
The Saints have to upgrade their defense and improve their edge rush. Smoot could be a nice fit in the second round if New Orleans doesn't take a defensive lineman in Round 1.
In the second round, Cincinnati could be a fit for Smoot. The organization has Margus Hunt entering free agency, while Michael Johnson is a limited player. Smoot could form a nice edge tandem across from Carlos Dunlap.
Smoot could also be in play for the Cardinals if Chandler Jones isn't re-signed. The Redskins want to get younger and more athletic up front. Smoot would be able to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 as an end for Washington.