South Carolina sent a cornerback to the first round in the 2021 NFL Draft when the Carolina Panthers selected Jaycee Horn with the No. 8 pick. Cam Smith might not have the same early-first aspirations, but he’s a CB prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft who could go on to make an impact in the NFL.
Cam Smith NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: South Carolina
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’1″, 180 pounds
- Length: 31 5/8″
- Wingspan: 75 1/2″
- Hand: 9 1/8″
At every position, there are traits that can and can’t be taught. It’s generally accepted that athletic and physical traits are more intrinsic to prospects, while qualities like technique and awareness can be developed to an extent. But there’s another trait that is more or less inherent: competitiveness. And especially at cornerback, you need to have it if you’re going to succeed.
Horn was an alpha as an NFL draft prospect. He carried a physical edge that made him a menace to line up against for receivers. And his successor at South Carolina, Smith, appears to have that same edge. It’s part of what made Smith an uber-productive cornerback at Westwood High School. And it’s a big part of what has led to his success with the Gamecocks.
Of course, Smith isn’t just a competitive alpha. But his alpha mentality ties together a very well-rounded profile. After earning three interceptions and 11 pass deflections in a tremendous 2021 campaign, Smith followed it up with a pick and five deflections in another strong 2022 season.
Along with his teammate Darius Rush, Smith is an enticing CB prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft, with a unique player mold and a tenacious competitive playstyle that makes him truly one-of-one in a stacked class.
Cam Smith Scouting Report
Most have Christian Gonzalez and Devon Witherspoon duking it out for the CB1 mantle in the 2023 NFL Draft. But behind them, there are plenty of other CB prospects with early-round potential. Is Smith in that group? Let’s take a closer look.
Smith stands around 6’1″, 180 pounds, but has good proportional length for his size. Within his frame, he has great overall athleticism as well. Smith carries impressive initial burst out of his stance and also shows excellent long-track explosiveness coming downhill. He can speed up his feet and accelerate without strain, erasing space when triggering on plays.
Expanding on Smith’s athleticism, the South Carolina CB’s hips are very fluid. He doesn’t have much delay on transitions, and he can accelerate out of those transitions. Moreover, Smith can execute 270-degree turns efficiently. He decelerates quickly and keeps his balance. Beyond that, he consistently stays low in his stance and easily sinks his hips on direction changes.
Smith is light on his feet, and his feet are exceptionally quick. The South Carolina CB moves with great corrective twitch and loads up lots of potential energy within his frame. He has the lateral suddenness to match ball carriers in space and easily correct his positioning. Additionally, he has a smooth backpedal and can seamlessly flip his hips when matching receivers at the line.
Going further, Smith shows off impressive recovery speed when chasing down plays. He can turn and run upfield with receivers, opening his strides to carry wideouts and minimize space. His closing speed also shows up when triggering downhill on plays.
While Smith most often plays on the boundary, his athleticism dictates that he can play in a number of different spots — on the boundary, in the slot, and even at safety on occasion.
Smith’s athleticism was confirmed at the NFL Combine when he ran a blazing 4.45 40-yard dash and logged a 38″ vertical and an 11’2″ broad jump. The explosiveness numbers were quantifiably elite, with his broad jump landing near the 99th percentile.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Smith’s athleticism also translates well when applied with proper technique. At the line, Smith flashes patience in press. He can use precise jams to delay releases and push receivers to the outside, controlling leverage. Smith, with his short-area athleticism, can match WR movements at the line and maintain discipline. He’s also very willing with his physicality. He regularly jams opponents and doesn’t shy away from contact.
Smith is a high-energy competitor with an alpha mentality. The South Carolina CB has both the athleticism and the competitive mindset to lock down receivers in man coverage. He can use successive one-hand jams to control receivers and pinch them against the sideline. But Smith also shows great promise in zone.
In zone, Smith actively follows the QB’s eyes and processes information quickly. His feet move in succession with his eyes, and he’s aggressive in seeking opportunities to jump routes. Smith processes leverage extremely well when responding to breaks in zone. He can snap his hips into position just as the WR is cutting his stem, showing excellent reaction quickness and anticipation.
Smith’s physical edge isn’t just a cosmetic boost; it’s a large part of his game. At the catch point, Smith is very proactive. He actively extends and uses his length to pry away passes from receivers. He has a great sense of timing and knows when to high-point the ball.
Moreover, he tracks the ball well in deep coverage and plays positioning like a WR. Smith consistently fights to get superior leverage at the catch point, and he has the short-area athleticism and physicality to win those battles.
Meanwhile, Smith’s physicality also serves him exceptionally well in run support. He throws himself around as a tackler. He also fully extends when engaging blocks and has the strength to shed with force. But Smith isn’t reckless, either.
He’s an aggressive form tackler who wraps up and regularly finishes takedowns. He also flashes superb play recognition in run support. With his balance of patience and aggressiveness, he rarely takes himself out of plays with faulty angles.
Smith’s Areas for Improvement
While Smith is a well-rounded cornerback, several inconsistencies show up on tape. One of the most pressing issues is Smith’s management of his physicality. The South Carolina CB can be overreliant on contact. Grabbiness shows up both at the line and the catch point. When he loses a step, he’ll tug at wide receivers to recover positioning and leverage, which can draw penalties.
Smith can also be a bit too reliant on two-hand jams. These jams lock his hips out, and he can be caught flat-footed at the line in these scenarios. He sometimes reaches and jams without moving his feet. This can cause him to lurch and lose balance and positioning. When Smith loses balance on direction changes, he’ll chop his feet and give up space.
In a similar vein, Smith has room to cut down on wasted motion and further improve the efficiency of his technique. He occasionally plays a little too leggy on transitions and can sink his hips better. He also has wasted motion in his feet at times when reading and reacting to plays, which can delay his response time. It doesn’t help that while his fluidity is very good, he’s not quite elite there.
Smith’s frame is lighter than average, and he has room to get stronger to maximize his physicality. He sometimes lacks the play strength to make solo tackles in space. Additionally, Smith can get baited into stopping his feet by receivers who can effectively use throttle control. Finally, while Smith has elite testing numbers, he can better channel that elite athleticism on tape at times.
Current Draft projection for South Carolina CB Cam Smith
Smith is a top 50 prospect on my board — worthy of early-to-mid Day 2 consideration in the 2023 NFL Draft. And especially with his strong testing numbers at the NFL Combine, it’s not out of the question that a team could value him late in the first round.
Smith’s combination of explosiveness and physicality, combined with his school association, naturally hearkens back to the college tape of his predecessor at South Carolina: Jaycee Horn. Smith is not the prospect that Horn was. Horn was a tier above, but Smith still has the skills to become an impact defender in the NFL.
The physicality that Smith brings to the table is smothering for opposing receivers — sometimes to a fault. He can be more efficient and measured applying physicality at times, but he undoubtedly sets the tone in contact situations. And along with his competitive toughness, Smith brings near-elite on-field explosiveness, exceptional twitch, long speed, fluidity, and the ball skills to make plays at the catch point.
With his lighter frame comes a lack of overwhelming play strength at times, and Smith also doesn’t quite have the elite length that vaulted Horn’s stock up. Additionally, Smith still has room to keep refining his technique. But overall, his profile is very solid and well-rounded — lacking many glaring flaws — and he can play on the boundary or in the slot.
Smith has the short-area athleticism, fluidity, and physicality to be a menace in man coverage. But he also has the explosiveness and route recognition to close and make plays in zone. And his run support — an extension of his physical gifts and competitive toughness — is truly exceptional.
Especially at a position like CB, talent, physicality, reliability, and versatility amount to a winning combination — and Smith has it. He’s arguably a top-five CB in the 2023 NFL Draft and projects to be a scheme/alignment-versatile starter early in his career.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Cam Smith
Strengths: Athletic cornerback with nice size and a developing game. Quick-footed in reverse and displays a smooth backpedal. Physical, mixes it up with receivers, and quickly tracks the pass when he faces the action. Smooth in transition and stays downfield with opponents.
Drives to the ball out of his plant and displays an explosive closing burst. Uses his size as an advantage and physically beats down receivers to defend the throw. Aggressively makes his way up the field to defend screen passes or the run.
Weaknesses: Hesitates when reacting to receivers’ moves off the line and does a lot of trailing in coverage. Slow getting his head back around to locate the pass in the air. Does not always time pass defenses well in man coverage. Got hammered by Cedric Tillman of Tennessee last season.
Overall: Smith was on my watchlist off the 2021 film, then he really elevated his game this past season. He possesses the size, athleticism, and traits teams want in a next-level starter, but Smith is unpolished and needs to finish his game. I see a lot of bumps in the road early in his NFL career. Nevertheless, if Smith is properly coached and given time to develop, he could turn into a dominant shutdown cornerback.
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