Position: Outside Linebacker
College: Florida State
Height/weight: 6’3”, 218 lbs.
You the Reader haven’t heard from me in this space for a while. For those who have missed the “Draft Focus” installments, I sincerely apologize. In the more likely scenario that you hadn’t noticed, let’s carry on in our writer-reader relationship just like we used to. Despite my hiatus from articles of this genre, the NFL draft is still an important topic, and it’s just around the corner. And the Cowboys still need a lot of help. So we’ll pick back up by discussing the second Florida State Seminole prospect, linebacker Telvin Smith.
Smith led the National Champions in tackles with 90, including 15 in the title game against Auburn. He was a four-year player at FSU whose impact was more noted on special teams in his first two seasons, but who blossomed into a leading playmaker all over the field in his final two seasons in the Garnet and Gold. Smith was named to the Coaches’ All-ACC First Team in 2013 as well as an Honorable Mention All-American by SI.com. Smith ranks 18th in program history with 29 career tackles for loss, according to his FSU bio page. He also recorded two interceptions for touchdowns last season, for 68 and 79 yards.
His statistics are great - even though the FSU starters got regular rest in the second half of blowout wins - and his impact on the Florida State defense was undeniable. But you won’t read much in-depth analysis of Smith without hearing about his size. He weighs in at just 218 lbs., making him the third-lightest linebacker to go through this year's combine. The smallest linebacker on the Cowboys’ roster is Justin Durant, who weighs in at 228 lbs. While Smith is small, he is athletic - his 4.52 40-yard dash time was in the top six at his position in the combine. When asked on ESPN Radio’s SVP & Rusillo about his body type, Smith said NFL scouts have told him he’ll need to bulk up.
“Of course, that’s an adjustment to the game at the next level,” Smith said in the radio interview.
The question with an undersized linebacker is whether he can make that adjustment and still be the athlete he was in college. For Smith, he shows impressive range for his position because of his speed. Gaining size will only be a positive for him if he maintains that stellar aspect of his game.
Why he’s a good fit for the Cowboys
Smith’s role at the next level will likely be weak side linebacker, and could slide in as a replacement for Bruce Carter, one of several underachievers on the 2013 Dallas defense. The Cowboys were the third worst team in the NFL in yards after catch allowed, averaging 148 YAC allowed per contest last season. A speedy linebacker like Smith would cut off some of those plays before they turn into big plays. He’s a guy who is constantly in pursuit of the ball carrier.
“He’s a kid who’s all over the field, another kid who’s an every-down player, good form tackler," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper told the Miami Herald in the middle of the 2013 season.
Even when Smith takes the wrong angle (or misses a tackle) he uses his speed to his advantage and does everything in his power to make a play on the ball. Check out this ridiculous play where he misses a tackle, but makes the play about 20 yards away, for a bigger loss:
If Rod Marinelli is looking to upgrade the speed of his defense, Smith could be a fit. And the ‘Boys won’t have to scoop him up in the first round to make it happen.
Swagger of a champion
Smith has some swagger, and he comes off a senior season in which his team won the National Championship. So, by the transitive property, he has the swagger of a champion… But this isn’t a geometric proof, and there is evidence beyond the factual nature of that sentence. In the aforementioned SVP & Rusillo interview, Smith said he and his defense had no doubt they would win the title game, even when down 21-3 to Auburn.
“We didn’t come [that far] to let it go,” he said.
If he approaches his NFL career with the same confidence, it could do wonders for him. He didn’t come this far to not continue to make an impact. And there is little doubt he lacks the confidence in himself to do just that.
Smith also mentioned in that radio interview that, after the scouting combine, 3-4 and 4-3 teams alike had approached him. He knows his value as a player, and with four full seasons and a national championship under his belt, he’s the type of guy that can be an emotional leader at the next level.
Mel Kiper told the Miami Herald that Smith would enter the league as a member of a talented group of linebackers, but that he is one of the top talents.
“Right now there are more outside linebackers than I’ve seen come out in a long, long time and have high grades," said Kiper. "But it’s not going to be a case where he gets lost in the shuffle, he’s too good to be any worse right now than the fifth or sixth best outside linebacker. And you can move him and he has great versatility as well.”
CBS Sports opines that Smith shouldn’t make it out of the top 100 picks of the draft.
Dallascowboys.com’s Nick Eatman projects the Cowboys to take Telvin in the third round (78th overall). Smith would make a valuable addition to a defense that needs playmaking ability, especially with the loss of DeMarcus Ware. Smith’s size is a red flag, but if his coaching staff at the next level finds the balance between putting on weight and maintaining his top-notch quickness and athleticism, Smith could be a force in the NFL.