The offensive line is perhaps the NFL position group most immune to league evolution. Regardless of where the NFL trends on offense, there will always be a need to generate movement upfront, create space for ball carriers, and protect quarterbacks. Tennessee offensive guard Trey Smith is one of the best at moving people, and he’s long been lauded as a top 2021 NFL Draft prospect. That said, his profile isn’t perfect, and there are some questions to address. How does Smith project to the draft?
Trey Smith NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Guard
- School: Tennessee
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’4 5/8″
- Weight: 312 pounds
- Wingspan: 83 1/8″
- Arm: 33 3/4″
- Hand: 10″
Only one player every year can say they were the top prospect in their graduating class. Trey Smith was that player in the 2017 recruiting cycle. Smith was the No. 1 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class. Standing at 6-foot-6, 299 pounds, he was already a mountain of a man. He dominated his lesser high school competition and earned consensus five-star marks.
Smith had offers from dozens of schools, headlined by blue-bloods like Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Oregon. It would have been fun to see Penei Sewell and Trey Smith blocking together on the left side for the Ducks. However, Smith instead decided to stay behind the Tennessee line. In a surprise decision, he went with the lesser-heralded Tennessee Volunteers, where he aimed to leave a lasting legacy.
Trey Smith’s career as a Tennessee offensive guard
As you’d probably expect from a No. 1 overall recruit, Smith was an immediate starter for the Volunteers. He started all 12 games in his true freshman season. Back then, he lined up at left tackle, and even there, he impressed. He was named to the Freshman All-American team, and he also earned second-team All-SEC honors in his first season.
Smith came into 2018 with high expectations, and at first, he met them. But seven games into the year, an unexpected fork in the road cast doubt over Smith’s football career. Doctors identified blood clots in Smith’s lungs, and he was forced to sit out the rest of the season. He spent the ensuing year remediating, taking on blood thinning medications and procedures in an attempt to recover and return to football.
Coming back from a near career-ending absence
Smith accomplished his goal in 2019. Doctors cleared him to return to the field after the clots were expunged from his system. By then, however, Tennessee had acquired a new left tackle in five-star recruit Wanya Morris.
Thus, Smith made a permanent move to left guard. As it turned out, Smith’s move to left guard might have been the best thing to happen to him. His power and size made him borderline dominant in close quarters, and his mauler mentality set him apart at the position.
The Tennessee guard followed up his triumphant return in 2019 with a solid senior season. Through nine starts in 2020, Smith allowed just one sack and accrued just one penalty. Smith returned to prove to scouts that his medical issues were behind him, and on the surface, he succeeded. Now, all that’s left is for Smith to produce at the Senior Bowl and pass the test at the NFL Combine. Then, free from the noise, Smith’s tape can do the talking.
Analyzing Tennessee guard Trey Smith’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
If you want power, Trey Smith is going to be near the top of your list on the interior offensive line. The Tennessee guard is a mauler and a people-mover, and it all stems from his incredible upper body strength and torque. Smith carries immense potential energy in his upper body on each play. As a pass protector, his initial hand strikes are incredibly strong and precise, and when he gets his man off-balance, he has the grip strength and the finishing power to negate them in totality.
Smith’s power is also evident in the running game. He’s solid at driving players back. Particularly when he gets to the second level or pulls along the edge, he’s a serious mismatch for flanking linebackers and defensive backs. When he approaches with the right angle and maintains his leverage, it’s basically over.
Smith also brings decent functional athleticism for his size. I’d like to see him be more fluid, but players don’t have to be elite athletes to succeed on the interior, as there’s less space for pass rushers to utilize. Smith shows flashes of good initial explosiveness, and particularly as a pass protector, he floats well in his zone.
Additionally, he has the positioning awareness to continually cement his leverage. In a phone booth, he’s nearly dominant, and it starts with his incredible play strength, torque, and force capacity.
How Trey Smith maximizes his physical traits
Trey Smith might be the most powerful guard in his class, and he also has decent straight-line explosiveness to match. But blockers can’t win on physical traits alone in the NFL. That’s where the mental part of Smith’s game comes in. Smith started 40 games over the course of his Tennessee career, and he clearly has not only the awareness that comes with experience but also the instincts to always actively look for work.
In pass protection, Smith’s head is constantly on a swivel. If he doesn’t have a man right away, he doesn’t get complacent. He stays ready and constantly extracts information from the play in real time. If a teammate needs help, he’ll come and drive the defender into the ground. If a defender tries to catch Smith off-guard, Smith has the wherewithal and quick reaction ability to whip into position and exert his will.
Smith’s strong mental game also shows up as a run blocker. Smith knows how to navigate congestion to reach the second level, and once he reaches it, he again looks for players to neutralize. He actively searches for combo blocks as well, and he’s always assessing how to provide his offense with the most value on a given play. This is emphasized by Smith’s mauler mentality. When he pursues opponents, he aims not just to slow them down, but to eliminate them. Not all linemen have that kind of drive.
What limitations are there with Tennessee guard Trey Smith?
Trey Smith has definite starting potential in the NFL, but there are some issues with his game. Some of those issues can be cleaned up, but others might be harder to remedy. Smith’s size, length, and power serve as strengths, but with his size also comes moderate lateral stiffness and middling recovery athleticism. Smith’s initial explosive burst helps when used as a corrective measure, but after he uses that juice, he’s not as nimble, and edge rushers with twitch and stamina can best him.
Additionally, Smith can play with more knee bend, and his foot speed consistency can improve as well. Smith shows flashes in some of these areas, but he may want to trim down his weight a bit at the NFL level to maximize his athleticism. Otherwise, he will have some mobility and recovery limitations, which can impact his leverage. His power and positioning awareness negates some of those issues, but they’re notable nonetheless, and in 2020, he was a little more inconsistent because of it.
There is another factor that complicates Smith’s draft projection, and that’s his medical history. He missed almost half of the 2018 season with blood clots in his lungs, and the ailment threatened his career for a spell. He wound up recovering and returning to All-American status in 2019 after being cleared by doctors, but the history is notable, nonetheless. Additionally, his mother died of congestive heart failure in 2015. If an underlying heart issue is discovered at the NFL Combine, it could have an impact on Smith’s NFL aspirations.
Trey Smith’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Opinions may be somewhat split on Smith due to his assorted athletic limitations, but his power pops on tape, and he has enough functional athleticism and processing speed to get by. Tony Pauline has Smith rated as a second-round pick and his 40th overall player. I’m inclined to have Smith near that range as well. He can be a high-level starter in power-oriented schemes, but he also has enough explosiveness and mobility to be a productive player in more versatile roles.
The biggest withstanding issue with Smith, by far, is his medical profile. Congestive heart failure isn’t necessarily hereditary. However, some risk factors can be hereditary. Additionally, Smith will need to be under constant watch for recurring blood clot issues. He hasn’t experienced clots since being cleared in 2019, and he’ll presumably remain in contact with physicians. But health issues such as this can be unpredictable, so it’s important to take precautions.
If Smith clears his medicals at the NFL Combine, the Tennessee guard is an excellent Day 2 player, and some teams might like him enough to take him a top-45 selection. Smith’s power is arguably second to none, his athleticism is solid overall, and he’s also a very smart, high-character player who won’t be a risk in the locker room.
Trey Smith’s best team-related fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Smith should be able to start early wherever he goes. That said, going to a team where he can maximize his power is essential. Few linemen have elite traits to mold their game around, but Smith’s power and potential energy can add value for teams right away. The Bengals are a common fit for Smith in Round 2, and it makes sense. Cincinnati’s line still needs lots of help. After Joe Burrow’s injury, it’s even more important.
Additionally, teams like the Packers, Chargers, Giants, and Bears could present excellent matches for Smith.
The hope is that Smith’s medical evaluation at the Combine reveals no red flags for his impending NFL career. He’s one of those rare offensive linemen who’s fun to watch even for the casual viewer. On the draft spectrum, that excitement alludes to upside that NFL teams can harness, magnify, and ultimately win with.