Notre Dame strong safety Harrison Smith was a four-year starter for the Fighting Irish, whose well-rounded game and experience makes him the second-best safety in the draft class, behind only Alabama’s Mark Barron.
Smith had a productive career at Notre Dame, with four-year totals of 307 tackles and 36 passes defended.
Read through the following slides to find out what Smith’s specific strengths and weaknesses are, and how those project to his success at the next level.
Being a sound tackler is very important to the strong safety position, and it is the strength of Smith’s game.
Smith is a very consistent tackler who rarely misses tackles and wraps up well. While Smith does not lay down jaw-dropping hits, he makes hits with sound contact to take down opponents.
Smith is very good at playing up to fill in on run support, and does a great job of staying with and in front of his opponent to get into a good tackling position. Smith is also very good at making tackles on pass receivers.
While many NFL defensive backs are plagued by poor tackling form, this is not going to be an issue for Smith.
It is almost unfair to call Smith’s pass-coverage ability a weakness, because it is not actually a liability, which is the case for too many strong safeties in the modern NFL. However, it is not among the strengths of his game.
While Smith does a very good job of tackling receivers once they make a catch, he tends to allow opposing receivers to make the catch first. Smith did have 10 passes defended last season, showing his ability to break up passes, but he struggled in man coverage against wide receivers.
Smith is not an elite athlete, which could cause him to struggle with covering receivers who come into the middle of the field. That is not to say that he is not athletic, but he does not have the exceptional speed or quickness to make up for not being exceptionally fluid and aggressive.
More often than not, Smith ends up involved in or close to the action on a given play. Smith has tremendous instincts and vision, and he uses those traits to consistently track down plays and get in position to where he needs to be to make the play.
Smith often seems to anticipate where an opposing player will go before that player actually moves in that direction, and he has the vision to quickly see the action around him and put himself in a position to defend the play.
Smith is an intelligent safety who will use his instincts well to become a cerebral leader and a playmaker in an NFL secondary.
Smith’s biggest overall strength is that he is a well-rounded player, but what keeps him from being a first-round talent is his lack of game-breaking playmaking ability. He is a solid player, but not often considered to be an X-factor in the secondary.
Smith had seven interceptions as a junior, including three in the season-ending Sun Bowl vs. Miami, but had no interceptions in his other three seasons at Notre Dame. Additionally, Smith only forced two fumbles during his four years.
When Smith does come up with a turnover, he is not much of a threat to come up with a return. While Smith is a solid athlete, he does not have the speed or agility to make game-breaking plays unless he is surrounded by open space.
Smith will make small plays in games that will be important for the defense and have a significant impact, but he is unlikely to make many game-breaking plays as an NFL defensive back.
A team that drafts Harrison Smith will be getting an experienced player who will be ready contribute at the NFL level immediately.
Having started for all four years of his collegiate career at Notre Dame, Smith became a leader, and has become much closer to being a ready product than a developmental project.
While Smith’s upside may be limited, his experience and readiness to contribute are major positives for him as a draft prospect.
Harrison Smith is a smart, well-rounded player who should be a solid starter as an NFL strong safety.
He has no glaring weaknesses in his game, but there is also little that stands out about his play. He is unlikely to emerge as a star, but his traits as a sound tackler and instinctive defensive back should lead to success.
Smith is in position to be a beneficiary of a weak safety class in the 2012 NFL draft. Smith is a third-round talent, but he is the second-best safety in the draft behind Barron by near-consensus. Because of the scarcity of top talent at the position, Smith could end up sneaking up into the late first round or the early second round.
Smith’s Grade: Third round
Position Rank: No. 2
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 60
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