Michigan DT Mazi Smith has a very unique profile in the 2023 NFL Draft, and as a result, his scouting report has been getting some first-round buzz. What makes Smith’s projection so exciting on the field, and does his collegiate film show enough promise to project success at the next level? Let’s find out.
Mazi Smith NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: Michigan
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’3″, 337 pounds
- Length: 33 3/4″
- Wingspan: 80 7/8″
- Hand: 9 3/4″
The Michigan Wolverines are one of the most reliable college programs when it comes to producing NFL talent on the defensive line. Last cycle, both Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo were first-round picks, and in the 2023 NFL Draft, Mike Morris is another talent who should command mid-round capital.
There will always be a place for edge defenders in the NFL, but the nose tackle is an even more elusive and niche player type. And when you can find a nose tackle with independent pass-rushing upside, you don’t shy away from that player. Smith has that kind of potential.
Early on, Smith drew looks as a future NFL nose tackle. A four-star recruit out of East Kentwood High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Smith drew comparisons to standard-bearing nose tackles like Bengals stud D.J. Reader. Schematically, he wouldn’t be coveted by every team. But the Wolverines saw a use for his special upside at the line’s center.
It took time for Smith to develop into the lineman he is now, of course. And even now, there’s still work to do before Smith is completely ready for the NFL. But the raw talent that Smith has flashed has awed onlookers at times, and 2022 was his most enthralling season yet, culminating in a stellar showing against TCU in the College Football Playoff.
After breaking out as a starter with 37 tackles, two tackles for loss, and three pass deflections in 2021, Smith put up 48 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, a half-sack, and a forced fumble in 2022, routinely making his presence felt at the center of the line.
The Michigan DT is gradually climbing toward his ceiling, all the while enticing odd-front defensive coordinators with what he can become. So, what can Smith become? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
Mazi Smith Scouting Report
In an era where the value of nose tackles can be hard to decipher, what kind of stock might Smith command in the 2023 NFL Draft? That depends, ultimately, on his three-down upside.
At 6’3″, 337 pounds, Smith has a massive, naturally well-leveraged frame. With his size, he can shrug off chip blocks and absorb double-teams. He also has exceptional proportional length and a wide span that helps him engulf blockers.
Of course, it’s well-advertised that Smith isn’t just incredibly big. He’s very athletic, too. That much was clear when he was the top freak on Feldman’s Freaks list in the summer. Per Feldman, Smith has a 33″ max vertical jump, a 9’4.5″ broad jump, and an absurd 6.95 three-cone time. He’s also logged 22 reps of 325 pounds on the bench press. At the NFL Combine, the weight utilized is 225.
Unfortunately, Smith didn’t test at the NFL Combine or do full testing at his pro day. He did, however, partake in explosiveness drills at the local Ann Arbor event. And there, he nearly confirmed the burst numbers first reported by Feldman. At his pro day, Smith logged a 29.5″ vertical and an 8’11” broad jump — both above-average explosiveness figures at DT.
All the numbers say Smith is a rare physical specimen, and the tape corroborates that belief. Smith flashes a quick first step as a pass rusher, and he has great explosive capacity off the line. He channels good foot speed into contact, and he uses this foot speed to accelerate quickly off the line and supplement lateral moves. Furthermore, Smith has good long-track explosiveness heading into contact on surefire passing downs, and he can accelerate quickly into gaps after stunting to find space.
Smith has a powerful build and great raw power that comes with his frame. The Michigan DT can quickly generate power after displacing blockers, using leg drive to shove blockers back into the pocket. He’s shown he can knock back blockers with full extensions, and he carries great force into contact with his mass and burst. With his high-level raw power, Smith can plow blockers upright off the snap and break into the backfield. He also showcases the necessary rotational strength and upper-body torque to throw blockers aside when properly leveraged.
Burst and power are surprisingly prominent elements of Smith’s game, taking his size into account. But far and away, his best trait is his functional strength. Smith has elite raw strength, controlling gaps easily with properly applied strength. He has the strength to long-arm guards and prevent displacement while clogging lanes. Additionally, with his strength, Smith can quickly rip down anchors while running with blocks and deconstruct before entering pursuit mode.
With his core strength, Smith can stonewall moving blockers and minimize space generated as blocks move across face. He also has rare recovery strength. The Michigan DT can take on two blockers and still halt momentum, absorbing massive amounts of power and force. He has the strength to plant, rip down anchors, and destroy frontside blocks while surging into running paths. Moreover, Smith flashes extremely impressive recovery strength in his lower body. He can redirect momentum and clamp down on runners while anchored, and he has the hand strength to quickly anchor and shed blocks.
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For his size, Smith flashes excellent lateral agility and change of direction in space. He can quickly flip his hips to track players to the sideline. The Michigan DT has good lateral twitch heading into contact, which he can use to displace blockers and open up attack angles. He can leverage this quick initial twitch into spry lateral moves, which can offset blockers immediately off the snap. In a similar vein, Smith has the loose hips and lateral agility to provide value on stunts.
Smith’s skill set is particularly beneficial as a run defender, but the nose tackle has visible pass-rushing upside. Smith has shown he can capitalize on displacement with rip moves up the A gap and pry into the pocket with his strength. He can levy quick inside swims with fast, forceful hands, breaking anchors as he does so. And after levying violent swims, he can quickly snap his hips into place and rip into gaps while driving and exploding upfield.
Going further with Smith’s pass-rushing upside, the Michigan DT has an awareness of how to use initial rushing angles to offset linemen, then attack the space generated in real time. He also senses when blockers are imbalanced, throwing them aside with swift, brutal shoves generated by his rotational torque.
He carries an explosive closing burst toward the QB once he has a free lane, and he’s a tenacious finisher who seeks out contact. Furthermore, Smith has shown he can provide second-effort rushes, even when encumbered by double-teams.
Late in 2022, Smith started to show growth as a pass rusher and provided more glimpses of what his maximum potential could be in that phase. Against a talented TCU interior offensive line, Smith used his first-step explosiveness and upper-body torque to plow through blocks and drive opponents back more than once.
As is becoming a theme with Smith, his pursuit ability is also impressive for his 6’3″, 337-pound frame. Smith has the hip flexibility to quickly swivel around and enter pursuit mode when unencumbered. He also shows good pursuit speed for his size to the sideline. He hustles in pursuit and can run down players toward the boundary. He’s shown he can maintain his balance while being moved off his spot and recover after shedding blocks.
Expanding on his pursuit ability, Smith has the awareness to recognize when he’s on the front side of plays, and he can rip down blocks and crash in on the RB. He also has good gap awareness and can slip past moving centers and sneak into the A gap. Smith understands leverage angles off the snap, and he’s shown he can use them to open up pursuit lanes.
Smith’s Areas for Improvement
While Smith has great explosive capacity, he doesn’t consistently bring an elite first step. Being a nose tackle, he can’t always attack downhill, as he has to maintain discipline on early downs. But even on running downs, his lack of elite functional explosiveness can inhibit his ability to win at contact. Ideally, he’d win at initial contact more often. To do this, he can better channel his burst and manage his pads to hold ground.
Going further, although Smith has high-end power capacity, he can more consistently apply it. His non-elite length puts a slight cap on that capacity. And his leg drive does stall out at times when his pad level is too high. Additionally, Smith doesn’t always show elite lower-body strength. He can be moved off his spot by double-teams. Of course, leverage also has a large hand in this flaw.
Smith’s height affords him a degree of natural leverage, but he still has room to improve at properly managing his pad level and leverage. At times, Smith can be more controlled when managing gaps. He sometimes gets tugged out of position and can take a moment to recover ground. Smith aligns upright too often at contact, sometimes neutralizing his lower body before attempting power exertions.
Not only does Smith’s tendency to pop up upright at contact stall power exertions, but it also makes him easier to get under and relocated by centers. Smith needs to do a better job maintaining leverage on moving blocks, as he can easily drift upfield if he doesn’t have proper pad level. The Michigan DT can be surprisingly easy to control with his upright alignment and high pad level. And losses at the snap can be difficult to recover from.
Moving onward, Smith too often opens up his torso off the snap, allowing blockers to take advantage of the extra surface area. He doesn’t always have a pass-rush plan, and he can be uncoordinated when rushing across alignments. Smith sometimes simply slams into contact with his frame and can do a better job loading and fully exerting his hands to maximize power output and channel power efficiently. Overall, his execution of pass-rush moves can be more consistent.
Among other things, Smith’s rushes occasionally fade out when his first moves don’t hit (or when encountered by double-teams). He doesn’t quite have the elite ankle flexion necessary to splice around blocks after penetrating gaps. And in pursuit, Smith’s lack of elite length does impact his reach as a tackler at times. He also lacks elite pursuit speed.
Current Draft Projection for Michigan DT Mazi Smith
Smith carries a top-75 grade on my board. By my grade and on account of his unique player mold, he’s worth consideration as early as early Day 2 and would be a prime value pick in the mid-Day 2 range. That said, with his freakish combination of size, explosiveness, strength, and power, a surprise Round 1 selection is possible.
Round 1 would be a bit rich for Smith on my board, but it’s easy to see the reasoning for it. Especially for teams that employ odd and hybrid fronts and need a capable two-phase nose tackle, Smith has absurd upside in that role. He has the raw strength to encumber double-teams and demolish blocking angles, but he also has the burst, power, torque, and violent energy to fuel a rise as a pass rusher.
On film, Smith can still be more consistent gleaning the full potential from his traits. He’s naturally well-leveraged with his frame, but managing his pad level and axis when attacking blocks and holding ground can still be an issue. He’s shown he can deconstruct and recover after being displaced upfield, but NFL linemen may more easily exploit his tendency to divert upright.
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That said, even with his inconsistent pad level and his existing need for refinement as a pass rusher, Smith shows enough promise to bank on. In run defense, he combines his brute strength and angle awareness to seal gaps and swallow up runners, and he has the size to absorb multiple blockers. And as a pass rusher, Smith has shown he can combine his burst and lateral agility with violent swims and rip moves.
Smith already has a strong projection as a run defender in 0 and 1-technique alignments, and he has the tools to support development on the pass-rushing side as well. In the early rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft, Smith’s pure blend of traits at nose tackle will be coveted in an era where personnel flexibility is so valuable.
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