The Vikings drafted LB Cameron Smith out of USC in the 5th round (#162) of the 2019 NFL draft - trading back three spots with the Patriots before doing so. He played 4-years at USC, and was described by Lance Zierlein as a smart and steady inside linebacker.
Let’s take a deeper look into his game.
Smart and Steady
Smith is seen as an average sized inside linebacker, and average athlete, which is presumably why he was available later in the draft on Day 3. His 40 time is indeed about average. But his short shuttle is above average and his ‘burst measures’ - vertical and broad jump - are both pretty high. This suggests a guy that may have the desired quickness, but not necessarily the desired range or coverage ability in a linebacker. His bench press was not good and suggests he needs more time in the weight room.
But Smith has been able to overcome his less than optimal athletic traits on the field with good instinct, good first step, and taking good angles to the ball. That’s translated into top 20 PFF grades among off-ball linebackers in the draft for both run-stop % (12.6) and an 88.4 run defense grade last season.
Add to that a top 20 rank in tackling efficiency, and you have a pretty solid linebacker against the run.
Okay, Not Great In Coverage
Smith had a pretty good coverage grade from PFF last year - 84.9 - based it would seem on being targeted slightly less than average (meaning his guy/zone was covered usually) and he was quick to tackle the receiver when he was targeted. He also had four pass break-ups.
But where he wasn’t so great is that he allowed 80% of his targets (24 of 30) to be completed, for an average of 7.75 yards a completion. Not horrible in terms of yards per catch - suggesting he was able to limit YAC with solid tackling - but room for improvement in terms of target completion percentage.
Most scouts say he’s a little stiff in coverage - not so good in man coverage and can be a little late getting there in zone - hence the high target completion percentage. Still, he manages to cover well enough most of the time to prevent his man from getting targeted, but I suspect at the NFL level he may have more difficulties, which could limit him to a base linebacker that comes out on passing downs.
Not Productive As A Pass Rusher
Smith is well down the list among this year’s draft class when it comes to pass rush productivity - ranking 160th. It may be that he wasn’t tasked much with rushing the passer or blitzing, but whatever the reason he didn’t produce a lot of QB pressures or sacks last season. Nor did he much throughout his career at USC.
Below are some scouting notes and comments on Cameron Smith.
Cameron Smith is an established four-year starter at USC, but his overall functional athleticism does put a damper on all that polish and experience. Smith has adequate athleticism to play in the middle, but he’s better served not playing as a true MIKE and being tasked to work sideline to sideline at the pro level. Smith has likable processing and is a pretty stout tackler, if he’s protected by his IDL he can be an effective starter at the pro level. - Kyle Crabbs, TDN
Smith’s key and diagnose skills, physicality and tackling ability are best featured as a 4-3 inside linebacker. With that said, he does have coverage limitations that could relegate him to base-defense only duties. A big part of Smith’s draft stock is contingent on medicals and what type of shape his knee is in. Smith’s ceiling comes as a starter at MIKE who gives strong contributions on special teams. - Joe Marino, TDN
Inside linebacker whose four-year run can best be described as smart and steady. Smith is lacking the physical traits and athletic ability to excite general managers and his tape is hardly splashy. However, he has a keen sense of play development and uses smart angles and proper technique to do his job effectively. He could hear his name called in the middle rounds, but it won’t take long for a coaching staff to look beyond his limitations and see a future starter. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com
Where He May Fit
Cameron Smith seems likely to battle for a depth spot at linebacker, which may largely be determined by his special teams ability. Smith has a lot in common with Kentrell Brothers - who also used his instincts and good angles to overcome some average athletic traits to have a very productive college career.
And Brothers may be Smith’s most immediate competitor for a roster spot. Brothers has been one of the very best Vikings on special teams since he was drafted, but never really saw the field much otherwise. He’s on the last year of his rookie deal, and it may be that the Vikings are looking to replace him, rather than pay him more in an extension.
Brothers has attracted some trade interest in the past as well.
But before the Vikings consider moving on from anybody to give Smith a roster spot, he’ll have to prove himself on special teams, and perhaps also as a more able backup at linebacker.
Here are some of Smith’s highlights at USC, followed by some individual game tapes.
How high will Cameron Smith rise in his NFL career?
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Below Average Backup/Special Teamer
Average Backup/Special Teamer
Above Average Backup/Special Teamer
Below Average Starter
Above Average Starter
Pro Bowl / All-Pro
Future Hall of Famer