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2017 NFL Draft Profile: Illinois DE Dawuane Smoot could be a mid-round steal

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A projected first-round pick entering the 2016 season, Smoot could provide value on Day 2 of the draft.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Dawuane Smoot was touted early this year as another top-flight defensive end coming out of Illinois. Add in the fact that NFL defensive guru Lovie Smith would be his coach for his senior year, and some projections before the season had Smoot going in the first round. The senior’s star has faded somewhat, as he’s a consensus middle round pick after picking up just five sacks his senior year. However, he has the frame and athletic ability to be a plus pass rusher at the next level without sacrificing much in the run game.

Prospect Measurables:

Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 264 lbs.

Projected NFL Position: 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end

Dawuane Smoot’s College Stats (2013-16)

YEAR GP TKL TFL SACKS PD FF FR
YEAR GP TKL TFL SACKS PD FF FR
2013 7 8 1 1 0 0 0
2014 13 33 7.5 2.5 2 0 0
2015 12 40 15 8 2 3 2
2016 12 56 15 5 1 2 0
TOTAL 44 137 38.5 16.5 5 5 2

Combine Results:

40-yard dash: 4.77 seconds

Vertical Jump: 29.5 inches

Broad Jump: 117 inches

3-Cone Drill: 7.18 seconds (14th among defensive linemen)

20-Yard Shuttle: 4.39 second (14th among defensive linemen)

Strengths

Smoot has been a pass rushing machine since he set foot in Champaign-Urbana. Last season, he was credited with five sacks and 10 QB hurries. A lot of attention has been focused on his ability to get in the backfield by scouts, and NFL teams are always looking for a player that can explode off the line and disrupt offensive backfields. Smoot’s work in the gym has paid off, as his stamina gives him a constant edge throughout a game. As an edge rusher, Smoot does a great job bursting off the line of scrimmage and turning the corner past opposing linemen.

In this clip below against Northwestern, you’ll see Smoot be “violent with his hands” in getting the offensive lineman’s hands off his body and deftly getting around the edge for the sack. Coaches call getting to the quarterback off the edge “running the arc” which represents how wide the defensive end has to go to get around his blocker. Smoot does this well here to not waste time and gets inside quickly to apply pressure almost instantly.

While he is more explosive standing up (who isn’t), Smoot can adapt to different defenses which is a key asset for NFL schemes. While his 40 time doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional speed rusher, Smoot’s solid times in both 3-cone drill and short shuttle highlight some of his explosiveness coming off the line of scrimmage.

Having a staff that includes Lovie Smith, Mike Phair and Hardy Nickerson (all three have NFL experience) as coaches is never a bad thing either, which has been an added bonus for teams looking to add Smoot to their roster. He’ll already be familiar with many NFL concepts that Smith’s staff put in place last season in Champaign, making his learning curve much easier as he goes through installs and his first training camp.

At nearly 270 pounds, Smoot can bring a physicality that many elite pass rushers lack. Whether he’s playing as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, he’s already big enough to be competitive in run support, while still being quick enough to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield.

An underrated thing that coaches will like is Smoot’s motor. He only came up with five sacks his senior year, a drop after picking up eight the year prior, but his quarterback hurries increased from two in 2015 to 10 in 2016. Even if he’s not getting the statistical accolades of a sack, bringing that kind of relentless pressure play after play and getting in the quarterback’s face is what wins football games.

Weaknesses

Relying on speed has limited Smoot’s ability to counter a blocker at the line of scrimmage. If Smoot can beat his man at the point of attack, he’s successful. If he can’t get around the edge fast enough, he doesn’t exactly have a second move to close in on a quarterback.

Smoot is nearly 270 pounds, but he doesn’t always throw his weight around. He’s given ground in goal line situations and rarely utilizes a bull rush to get to the quarterback.

Smoot’s raw arsenal of block shedding moves are on display here against Michigan. On a deep drop, Smoot is matched up 1-on-1 with the tight end -- a matchup he should win nine times out of 10.

Instead, Smoot gets locked up, and although the Illini get the sack, it’s due to good coverage downfield, as the opposing quarterback had plenty of time to throw downfield. The encouraging sign? Smoot showed flashes from time to time on using a rip move, and this spin against Nebraska is just filthy:

Coaches always talk about having a “killer” move and a “counter” to keep offensive linemen off-balance Smoot needs work in both areas, but the foundation is already there for him to develop.

Making the jump from college to NFL is incredibly difficult, and the ones that make it were typically able to dominate on a regular basis. Smoot didn’t seem to take over games and between him, Carroll Phillips and Chunky Clements, the Illini should have been higher than seventh in the Big Ten in sacks.

Senior Highlights and Combine Tape

NFL Comparison

Brad Repplinger: Jihad Ward (Oakland)

Steve Bourbon: Alex Brown (Chicago, retired)

Projected Draft Position

NFL.com: Round 3, 73rd pick by Cincinnati Bengals

CBS Sports: Rounds 4-5

WalterFootball.com: Round 3, 100th pick by Tennessee Titans

TCR Prediction: Round 4, 111th or 117th pick by Chicago Bears