Brandon Smith, Penn State LB | NFL Draft Scouting Report

What does Penn State LB Brandon Smith's scouting report reveal about his potential, and where might he go in the 2022 NFL Draft?

As a former five-star recruit with incredible athletic ability, Brandon Smith certainly has the profile to replicate previous Penn State linebacker success in the 2022 NFL Draft. While he appears to have fallen out of favor compared to other ascending linebacker prospects, Smith’s scouting report showcases he has the strengths to be an NFL starter. Will that be reflected in his draft position, or will consistency issues color his eventual selection in Las Vegas?

Brandon Smith NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Linebacker
  • School: Penn State
  • Current Year: Junior
  • Height: 6’3 1/2″
  • Weight: 250 pounds
  • Wingspan: 81 1/2″
  • Arm: 34 5/8″
  • Hand: 10 1/4″

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. Athleticism is not only Smith’s calling card, but it’s 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 in the preseason and ultimately during the pre-draft process. 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 37.5-inch 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. There is an excellent example of this from the Auburn game this season. Furthermore, his football intelligence flashes in his ability to understand responsibilities in zone coverage. 

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 and his power, he’s a difficult proposition for blockers when he’s at the top of his game. 

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.

Although his NFL Draft stock appeared to wane during the 2021 season, Smith still has a scouting report packed with pro potential. He has Day 2 potential in terms of his NFL Draft selection. If he can play consistently to the strengths of his scouting report, the Penn State LB can be a starter at the NFL level.

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. If he wants to be a consistent NFL contributor, he’ll need to demonstrate development in these areas. 

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. Against the run, he’ll also need to demonstrate a more consistent approach to working through traffic. 

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 here. 

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. Conversely, sometimes he plays more passively than a player with his physical profile. Finding a consistent middle ground between these two issues will be key to his success.

Smith’s 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.

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. Moreover, Smith flashed versatility as a special-teams contributor with 6 blocked kicks. A five-star recruit, he was the No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2019 recruiting class and the No. 1 player in Virginia.

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. 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 to be named the Gatorade Player of the Year.

Smith’s career at Penn State

Smith’s Penn State bio states that he 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 on 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 (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’s NFL Draft ascension 

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.

The positional switch led to the most productive season of Smith’s college career. Setting career-high single-game tackles against Auburn and Michigan, the Penn State linebacker had a standout performance in the Maryland game with 2.0 tackles for loss and 2 pass breakups. Smith ended his junior campaign with 81 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 5 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble.

Despite the career-high production, Smith was only a third-team selection for the All-Big Ten team. At the same time, it felt like his once-thriving NFL Draft stock had soured amongst draft analysts. His case wasn’t helped by a lack of an appearance on the all-star game circuit. Sometimes prospects just get lost in the process.

However, Smith reminded the NFL community of his elite athletic profile across the NFL Combine and Penn State Pro Day. Posting a Relative Athletic Score of 9.97, Smith set exceptional numbers for the 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds), vertical (37.5″), broad (10’8″), three-cone (6.94 seconds), and shuttle (4.08). While he won’t command first-round attention like teammates Arnold Ebiketie and Jahan Dotson, there’s a solid chance Smith is off the board on Day 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Brandon Smith

Positives: Incredibly athletic linebacker with a three-down game. Quick to read and diagnose, smooth and fluid pedaling in reverse, and possesses a burst to the action. Quick flipping his hips in coverage, gets depth on pass drops, and shows a lot of ability in space. Goes sideline to sideline, quickly locates the ball, and works to get off blocks.

Negatives: Ineffective blitzing upfield. Easily blocked from the action or knocked from his angle of attack.

Analysis: Smith is a traditional off-ball/space linebacker who is effective on all three downs. Though he’s not a pass rusher, he’s outstanding in coverage and equally effective as a run defender in pursuit.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.

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