Brandon Smith is a big, fast, freak-athlete-type linebacker who shows flashes of brilliant play and also inconsistency that in some ways increased as his college career progressed. Smith became the full-time starter midway through the 2020 season and flashed considerable talents as a pass rusher and downhill pursuer.  He was primarily utilized as the weakside off-ball LB in 2021, more focused on dropping into the secondary or being responsible for the QB on RPOs. For a big linebacker, he is unusually good in both zone and man coverage.  There are some eye-popping highlights but the inconsistencies and failure to put the athletic skills to use are the difference between Smith being a solid 1st round pick and a late day 3 prospect.

Smith best projects as a 3-4 Buck ILB or 4-3 WOLB but his sideline to sideline speed and range might suit a switch to 3-4 Mack LB or WOLB/Joker, where he could be used similarly to Former teammate Micah Parsons, rushing the edge, dropping into coverage, pursuing the run.  Brandon Smith will arrive into the NFL as a potential year 1 contributor if his roles/tasks are clearly defined presnap, and if he grows into his tools and athletic profile, he could be a Pro Bowl talent or more.

The Measurables

Brandon Smith

LB – #12 Penn State

HT: 6022
WT: 241

Year: Junior
High School: Mineral HS, Louisa, VA

HS Rating: 5-star, #1 rated ILB recruit (0.9911)

Phil Steele: 

Brandon Smith Scouting Report

When he identifies the target, he explodes downhill and looks to deliver a big hit. Unfortunately, indecision and lack of eye discipline counteract his obvious physical advantages.  His ability to get to players in space isn’t met with as much technically sound tackling technique as it should. He can be more of a shoulder-striker than wrap-up tackler, although there is improvement over the course of his relatively short career. He has long arms that will likely help him improve this weak spot––he just has to trust them by using his feet and work harder to get into tackling position when possible.

Not an accomplished coverage player in high school, he has obviously worked a great deal on comfort working in space and going backward. He effortlessly glides to his coverage landmarks in zone and does a fairly good job at sticking with TEs or getting to flat RBs in man coverage. Versus Ohio State, he showed the ability to carry the middle seam in cover 2. He may not be Brian Urlacher at this point of his development, but he looks very confident and at ease going backward/in space for a LB of his size.

The change in his body and play style from Sophomore to Junior seasons is concerning. In 2020, he looked like a dynamic playmaker, with a great deal more burst and aggression. In 2021, he had moments of showing the burst/speed (chasing down 40lb lighter WR Jaxon Smith-Nigba despite a 7-8 yard disadvantage) but more often looked sluggish, especially as he got close to contact with the ballcarrier.

An additional concern is play recognition and mental processing: NFL LBs can have incredible running speed and change of direction quickness but if they are starting a step slow, that athleticism can go to waste. Early in his college football career, he was able to get away with being late because he was a superior athlete. At the next level, things get faster and more complex. But if he improves his read/react skills, finds the right weight distribution to remain dynamic, and puts it all together? The potential is obvious.

What we want to see from Brandon Smith in Indianapolis

  • As a 6’3″ 240+lb LB, Smith is already has more than enough size. The coverage-oriented drills will be a key for him––he should continue to show he can move well in reverse for a LB at a size more common for downhill-only players. There is a sense he played too heavy in 2021, so a trimmer body that might allow him to even slightly better the testing numbers he put up a year ago (4.25 ss,  36″ VJ,  10-5 BJ, 4.54 40yd); That kind of result would put him solidly in the conversation for top 3 at his position based on athletic potential. 

Pre-Combine Projection

As an underclassman, Brandon Smith didn’t get a chance to show off at the Senior Bowl… but chances are he will be one of the stars of the combine.  He may not have the 4.36 straightline speed, but he’s expected to best the rest of Micah Parsons’ impressive numbers in Indianapolis. The size, athleticism, and pedigree of coming from LBU will likely convince teams they can improve the tackling and mental processing parts of his game. You can never have enough physically freakish defenders, and he would be of interest to every NFL team.

The current consensus view is that Smith is a late 2nd round or early 3rd round pick but a stellar workout in Indy, with upside as a coverage LB/underclassman status may make a team eager to take him earlier than expected.

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By Wil Masisak

NFL & Draft curmudgeon. Witness to SBs III-LV. The old half of @osnsfb podcast & 25-year host of @SteelerFury Pittsburgh Steelers Show podcast. The only person you know who's been playing football for 50+ years.

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