Before I start this article, I want to preface it by saying I would not be upset if we drafted Roquan Smith in the first, and I wouldn’t punch out my door if the Dolphins drafted him 11th overall, like some folks did last year when Miami opted to draft Charles Harris over Reuben Foster.
Which I'm sure everyone remembers.
But I also will not be pounding on the table for Roquan Smith, despite ProFootballFocus ranking him as this draft's top LB. He is a good prospect with elite athleticism, and although some people think he has elite instincts I saw a very inconsistent processor. He also gets bullied in the run game. He has real difficulty getting off blocks.
This translates to me that he is scheme specific middle linebacker with DTs that can protect him, or he is a weak side linebacker. Either way it is hard to justify picking those scenarios with the 11th pick. But that also means you are missing out on a truly elite prospect.
Here are my 11 players that I think the Dolphins should draft over Smith:
All are dominant at premium positions or the best players in the draft (Barkley and Nelson).
The recent history of drafting an off-ball linebacker in the top 15 does not help Smith’s case. Here are the off-ball linebackers picked in that range over the past ten years.
9th overall - Keith Rivers, 6-foot-2, 235
10th overall - Jerod Mayo, 6-foot-1, 250
4th overall - Aaron Curry, 6-foot-2, 250
15th overall - Brian Cushing, 6-foot-3, 250
8th overall - Rolando McClain, 6-foot-4, 255
9th overall - Luke Kuechly, 6-foot-3, 238
9th overall - Anthony Barr (was Edge in college), 6-foot-5, 255
15th overall - Ryan Shazier, 6-foot-1, 230
13th overall - Haason Reddick, 6-foot-1, 235
Roquan Smith will be the shortest and the third lightest out of that whole bunch. I do not think that Smith’s size is a huge problem. In fact, NFL defenses are trending to smaller, faster linebackers, such as, Deion Jones, Telvin Smith, and Bobby Wagner.
But all those guys were drafted in the 2nd round or later. There are those guys in this draft with Darius Leonard, Jerome Baker (my favorite), Shaun Dion Hamilton, Skai Moore, and Fred Warner. I am leaving out a ton of solid linebacker prospects from this draft.
The last aspect that we must consider is defenses are matching pass happy offenses with dime and nickel packages. This means teams are going away from linebackers. We have Raekwon McMillan, Kiko Alonso (who the team likes, and isn’t as bad as Dolphins Twitter makes him seem), and a guy who I am a fan of in Stephone Anthony.
I don’t think we are in dire straits at the position. I would like to add a player to offer versatility but it’s not as high a priority as some make it out to be.
That being said, let's get to the whole point of this story, which is the film breakdown. We'll start by going through the good parts of Roquan Smith's game.
Good instincts - Click and Close
This is good Roquan Smith. When he plays with great instincts he is one of the best players in this draft. He sees it, fires to the collision point, and makes a tackle around the line of scrimmage.
Here is a particularly good example of Smith playing with good instincts. He can win the spot and get good leverage on the blocker. He then is able to make the tackle on the RB.
Hits like this are what make Dolphins fans bang the table for Roquan Smith. He is very good at timing his blitz right and accelerating once he has an open lane to the QB.
Smith gets a nice sack. He is a very good blitzing linebacker. He shows acceleration and burst on this play.
Smith gets a pressure on the quarterback on this play.
Great Pass Defense
Smith also has plenty of value as a pass defender. He makes a freaky pass break up on this play, leaping up and getting a hand on the ball to ruin the potential touchdown.
Here, Smith covers a TE down the seam. The play doesn't go in his direction, but he still moves well in coverage.
Smith defends this pass play well. Alabama throws a swing pass to the RB in the flats. Smith avoids the slant pick and accelerates to the receiver and makes a tackle around the line of scrimmage, preventing the first down.
So now that I have acknowledged there are some undeniably good aspects to Roquan Smith's game, now it's time to get to the stuff that I don't like, the stuff that keeps him from being my preferred choice for Miami's 2018 1st-round draft pick.
First we'll watch an example of a LB that does exactly what I want when processing a play. Here is Reuben Foster back during his Alabama days (before he got himself into a mess). Here Foster flows to the ball while looking for the ball carrier, and then he reacts instantly.
Now we place our focus back on Roquan Smith who seems to have an inconsistent trigger. I was unimpressed with his instincts overall, despite him making some good plays - as shown earlier. Smith is slow to react too often on run plays. Understand he has outside contain on the option, but once he sees the ball handed to the running back he needs to rally to the ball.
Smith takes the cheese for too long on this simple option play. He locks on to the RB a couple seconds too long. Understand, I do not post negative stuff if I only see it once, but misdirection consistently gives Smith a hard time based on what I've watched of him, which we will continue with.
Smith takes the cheese again and gets sucked in on the option. He doesn’t adjust fast enough to the outside toss and gets blocked out of the play.
Smith needs to fill this hole once he sees the running back with the ball. Smith hesitates and lets the blocker get a square block on him. There was an easy opportunity for a TFL on this play but Smith’s hesitation ruins that opportunity.
I really don’t know why Smith is so slow to see the handoff. He should be flowing to the direction of the jet sweep.
Smith takes false steps too often. There is absolutely no reason to step on this play, and it takes him out of the play completely.
Block Magnet/Bullied by Blockers
Roquan Smith truthers, now is when you need to turn the computer screen off. What you are about to see happens way too often. Smith gets manhandled more than he should. On this play Smith is blocked out of the camera frame. He really needs to learn how to stack and shed. I don’t think it’s a size thing because Reuben Foster was the same size or smaller in college and was able to stack and shed all the time.
This play and the ones to follow showcase his struggles in beating these blockers and getting off of blocks in general.
As we draw this film breakdown to a close, all I will say is this: the negatives may outweigh the positives from what I can see, but that does not mean I don't like Roquan Smith as a prospect, I simply do not see him being worth the 11th overall pick for the Miami Dolphins.
This film review was written by Matthew Knowles. Follow him on Twitter: @M_PorterKnowles
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