As a former five-star recruit with incredible athletic ability, Brandon Smith certainly has the profile to replicate previous Penn State linebacker success if he declares for the 2022 NFL Draft. Smith is soaring up draft boards following a solid start to the season, landing him on the semifinal list for the Butkus Award. However, what does his scouting report tell us about his pro potential?
Brandon Smith NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Linebacker
- School: Penn State
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 241 pounds
Brandon Smith Scouting Report
Penn State is often considered “Linebacker U,” and it’s easy to see why. Since 1940, the Nittany Lions have had over 60 linebackers drafted to the NFL. Furthermore, they’ve produced six first-round linebackers, all of whom became top-20 selections. That includes Micah Parsons, the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft, who is currently establishing himself as one of the best young players in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys.
Penn State’s reputation as a producer of NFL-caliber talent was one reason why Smith headed to the Nittany Lions. Does his scouting report indicate a player that can join the ranks of Penn State NFL linebackers?
Yes, it does. Examining Smith’s game film from across his sophomore and junior seasons reveals plenty of exciting traits that will transfer to the next level. As athleticism is not only his calling card but increasingly crucial in the modern game, let’s begin his scouting report there.
Smith posted impressive high school testing numbers. Furthermore, he backed those up with eye-opening numbers for Penn State in the preseason. Most importantly, those numbers translate to the game film. The Penn State LB plays the game with incredible game speed.
Speed and athletic ability
When tasked with blitzing the quarterback, Smith explodes through gaps with destructive speed, like a heat-seeking missile closing on its target. Smith’s explosion seen on tape validates a 36-inch high school vertical jump. That metric is used to test raw explosiveness, and the Penn State linebacker possesses plenty of it.
In addition to his play speed, Smith exhibits impressive lateral agility. He can effortlessly sidestep a blocker with a remarkable change-of-direction ability when attempting to force his way into the backfield. Additionally, he demonstrates that ability in coverage where he is adept at matching tight ends and running backs.
Coverage ability and strength
Although he has some improvements to make in coverage — we’ll get to that later — his athletic ability allows him to make some eye-catching plays. Smith can read, click and close, and make plays on the ball as a result. There is an excellent example of this from the Auburn game this season.
Smith also demonstrates some impressive strength on film. He can hit with bone-shaking ferocity when required. The Penn State LB also uses this strength to shock bigger offensive tackles. With excellent length in addition to his power, he’s a difficult proposition for blockers.
Finally, Smith offers exceptional versatility as an NFL Draft prospect. He’s played SAM, WILL, and even has some exposure as a MIKE linebacker. He can rush the passer, play strong against the run, and offers coverage ability.
All the strengths listed in his scouting report indicate that Smith can be an early-round prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Areas for improvement
While Smith can be an early-round NFL Draft selection, there are some areas for improvement. His athletic profile makes him an alluring prospect, but there are some technical refinements that he needs to work on to increase his stock further.
Although he’s capable of hitting with ferocity, there were multiple examples of missed tackles on his tape. Smith needs to ensure he’s consistent with his timing and technique as a tackler, particularly against the run.
His coverage ability is a work in progress. The most significant area for improvement in this regard is his ball tracking. Nevertheless, Smith has shown he has the football intelligence and instincts to develop this area.
Finally, Smith needs to ensure he doesn’t cross the line between intensity and recklessness. He was guilty of drawing multiple penalties last season for late or out-of-bounds hits.
Brandon Smith Player Profile
While Smith is now receiving significant NFL Draft attention, he’s no stranger to the spotlight. The Penn State LB was a standout player for Louisa County High School, earning accolades and acclaim from national and local media. A quiet and reserved young man away from the field, Smith was a different beast on game day.
“As quiet and humble as he is off the field, he plays with immense passion and enthusiasm that I wish every kid in football had,” Louisa County head coach Will Patrick told ultimaterecruit.com at the time of his commitment to Penn State.
Enthusiasm and talent combined to make Smith a devastating force on the field. As a sophomore, he racked up 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He amassed 165 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles the following year. Morever, Smith flashed versatility as a special-teams contributor with 6 blocked kicks.
Unsurprisingly, Smith’s performances drew the eyes of college football programs. A five-star recruit, he was the No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2019 recruiting class and the No. 1 player in Virginia.
Smith’s recruiting process has one natural conclusion
Smith held offers from 30 programs nationwide, including Alabama, USC, and eventual national champions Clemson. However, with a reputation for producing NFL-caliber linebackers, only one place made sense for Smith.
“I just got that feeling that this is someplace I really wanted to be. Knowing that they are a linebacker-based school and they structure everything around us. It just gives you the extra advantage to be where you want to be in the next three or four years.”
Committing to the Nittany Lions before his senior season allowed Smith to focus on ending his high school career in style. During the 2018 campaign, he added 135 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles to his résumé.
As a result of his performances, he was named the All-USA Virginia Defensive Player of the Year. Furthermore, he became only the second-ever player from Central Virginia named the Gatorade Player of the Year.
Smith’s career at Penn State
On his Penn State bio, it states that Smith aspires to be an FBI agent. However, it doesn’t take a detective to figure out why the Nittany Lions made the linebacker the jewel of their 2019 recruiting class. The athletic and instinctual linebacker showed game-changing potential, wowing with his performances and incredible high school testing times.
Still, like most high school prospects, Smith had some physical and mental development to undergo before undertaking a starting role. Despite this, he saw action in 13 games as a true freshman, occupying the backup SAM LB role behind NFL-bound Cam Brown. When he was on the field, Smith flashed his potential with a tackle for loss in his debut against Idaho. A second tackle for loss came later in the season against Ohio State.
With Brown departed to the NFL Draft, Smith stepped up as the starting SAM linebacker in his sophomore season. Amongst the disruption of the 2020 campaign, the Penn State LB emerged as a future star for the Nittany Lions defense. He logged his first career sack against Ohio State, snagged an interception against Nebraska, and earned Defensive Player of the Week honors from Penn State’s staff in three games.
One of those came in the season finale against Illinois. Smith logged a then-career-high 8 tackles, with 3 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. The performance helped propel the Penn State linebacker into the national consciousness ahead of his junior campaign.
Smith switches from SAM to WILL linebacker for 2021
During the offseason, a ridiculous testing performance helped solidify his standing as one of the most athletic linebackers in college football. Smith landed on the revered Feldman’s Freaks list ahead of the 2021 season, an honor reserved for the most impressive physical specimens in the sport.
Additionally, Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry gushed over the expectations as Smith prepared to switch from SAM to WILL linebacker for 2021.
“He has grown tremendously. He was a little bit out of position at SAM, but it was right at the time. As the  season progressed, he got more comfortable and gained experience. He looks very much at home at WILL. He’s got good rush ability, great brains, with physicality and tremendous size — and he’s learning. I think people are going to enjoy watching Brandon play.”
Those people were presumably not opposing offensive coordinators. Through Week 9 of college football, Smith is having his most productive season to date. In eight games, he has registered 52 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.
Impressive performances send his 2022 NFL Draft stock soaring
After a standout performance in a win over Auburn, the Penn State linebacker was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Smith logged a career-high 10 tackles and could have added another interception to his college résumé. Against Illinois, he secured his first career forced fumble, adding a sack and tackle for loss for good measure.
Although he is just a junior, the expectation is that Smith will declare for the 2022 NFL Draft. At present, he’s a top-100 player on the big board of all three Pro Football Network Draft Analysts. With his reputation soaring, Smith seems set to add to Penn State’s legion of NFL linebackers with an early-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.