It’s still very early in the process but former Georgia safety and the Las Vegas Raiders’ fifth-round pick from last April’s NFL Draft, Christopher Smith II, is already starting to look like a Day 3 gem.
During the draft, Bleacher Report gave the Raiders an ‘A’ for selecting Smith II 170th overall, and the pick was highly regarded by several other outlets in most post-draft grades and/or analyses. Now that he’s been in the building for a few weeks with rookie minicamp and OTAs, the former Bulldog is starting to receive praise from Las Vegas’ coaching staff as well.
“Chris Smith, I mean, same things you saw at Georgia,” defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said last week. “[He’s] just playing at a high level there. I mean, this guy, he’s smart, he works hard, he’s diligent in terms of details, in terms of how he studies.”
Smith II’s instincts were evident on his college tape as he would consistently jump routes, leading to 15 combined interceptions and pass breakups over his last two years in college. He also was quick to key and diagnose run plays with five tackles for loss while primarily lining up as a deep safety. That’s a big reason why so many people have viewed him as a draft steal.
“Chris is doing a good job of keeping building each day,” Graham continued, “[We’re] giving him more and more, and he’s able to handle that. And you see obviously the athletic ability, the ability to get to the ball, all that stuff that you saw on tape. And now he’s just transferring that to the next level.
“And again, like most rookies, they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s a different level of competition. He’s working on it every day, but he’s in here all the time working.”
It’s interesting and good to hear Graham say that Smith II’s athletic ability is standing out. Probably the biggest reason he slid on draft weekend was a poor NFL Combine performance where he ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash and earned a 2.93 out of 10 Relative Athletic Score.
So, either he dramatically improved athletically in a couple of months or plays a lot faster than his testing times suggest. The latter is much more likely and, again, what he showed on tape at Georgia.
It will be worth monitoring to see if Smith II can carry the momentum he’s built during OTAs into training camp. The Raiders need someone in the secondary who can create turnovers, especially since they didn’t re-sign safety Duron Harmon, who single-handily accounted for over 25 percent of the team’s turnover opportunities last season.
Shortly after selecting the former Bulldog, general manager Dave Ziegler compared him to Harmon, stating:
“When I watched him, [he] reminded me a lot of Duron Harmon in his ability. Duron obviously was a great player for us last year, but Chris relies on his instincts and awareness to make plays on the football. He’s a student of the game. He has a very unique ability, I would say, just to pattern read and look at a route concept and how it develops out of the snap and make some reads that able himself to be in position to make plays on the football.
“...When you put on the tape, he’s a guy that impresses you,” Ziegler continued. “There are a few picks on this, but after the Chris Smith pick, [I got] four or five texts from different GM’s around the league where they were targeting Chris Smith just because of how good of a football player he was. So excited about him to come in and see him compete with that group.”
Smith II will have a rare opportunity for a fifth-round pick in training camp. He could easily compete for a starting spot seeing as Tre’von Moehrig is coming off a down year and free agent signing Marcus Epps will likely take on more of the box safety role. Plus, Moehrig and Epps only have four career interceptions and one forced fumble between them in six combined seasons.
So, the spot is up for the taking and if the Georgia product can continue to show off his instincts next month, he could emerge as a big winner in camp.