Just two drafts ago, South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn was the first off the board at his position, going eighth to the Carolina Panthers. In the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, does the scouting report of Cam Smith have similar first-round potential? Smith has taken the torch from Horn, and he very well could follow a similar path.
Cam Smith NFL Draft profile
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 is trending up fast. And his traits could lend him early-round capital in the 2023 NFL Draft.
- Position: Cornerback
- School: South Carolina
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’0″, 185 pounds
Cam Smith scouting report
Heading into the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, the title of CB1 remains up for grabs. Can Smith make a legitimate claim for it, just like his former teammate Horn did two cycles ago? Let’s dive into the tape.
Smith stands around 6’0″, 185 pounds, but appears to have 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.
His 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’s 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.
He 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. Smith 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 over-reliant 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 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.
Smith’s frame is slightly lighter than average, and he has room to get stronger. 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 great speed, explosiveness, and fluidity, he might not be quantifiably elite in any area.
Current draft projection for South Carolina CB Cam Smith
Smith is a terrific 2023 NFL Draft prospect with a strong scouting report. He doesn’t quite have the elite length-explosiveness combo that inflated Horn’s stock. However, far worse cornerback prospects have gone in Round 1. The early-round range is where Smith belongs. As of now, he won’t be consistently mocked in Round 1, but a tremendous fourth season could lock him into the first-round conversation.
It’s unclear if Smith has an elite trait aside from his physicality. But it’s also important to note that the “elite” boundary is naturally a high bar to clear. And in many areas, Smith is much closer to elite than he is to average. The South Carolina CB brings great length, explosiveness, agility, and speed. And while Horn might have been a superior physical specimen, Smith may be more fluid in his transitions.
Especially for NFL cornerbacks, not having a weakness can be very valuable. And it’s hard to find glaring flaws in Smith’s game. He has the short-area athleticism, fluidity, and physicality to be a menace in man coverage. But he also has the explosiveness and route recognition ability to close and make plays in zone. And his run support — an extension of his physical gifts and mental toughness — is truly exceptional.
There’s still too much football to be played to declare anyone CB1. But Smith isn’t just a sleeper anymore. He’s legitimately in the conversation to be one of the top cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft, and he projects as a scheme-versatile starter at the next level.