While every NFL team plays some amount of zone defense, it’s not a stretch to think that we will see a lot more zone defense under Steve Wilkes than we did with Greg Williams. Wilkes uses a base 4-3, loves to stunt and blitz out of Cover 1, uses a lot of sub-packages if his LB’s aren’t strong (this is us..) and utilizes Cover 2 Zone and Man, as well as Cover 4 (obvious pass downs). He is not a “bend, don’t break” guy, so he’s likely to be running more aggressive shells and let his CB’s play single man and he loves to bring extra blitzers off the edge. He values his safeties for versatility. I would say his defense is going to be at it’s best when he’s got some really strong linebackers, like he did in Carolina. Hard to reproduce that, but I am sure his influence will be felt in this draft when it comes to linebacker type.
What is not predictable at the moment, is what his CB requirements are going to be. Players that are only suited for Zone might be low value targets and tend to be unless you are the Steelers who have played a lot of Cover 6 over the years and want players that can ALL excel in zone. I think what is more valuable are secondary players that can play solid zone in addition to their primary skills as Press or Slot specialists. Best of both worlds. We should have a much better idea after this draft what Wilkes is trying to get done here in CLE.
GOOD: Despite a 3rd Round grade, Smith is still no guarantee as a future starter but likely can be solid depth player by Year 3. He bounced around before landing at Alabama, starting out at LSU (1 year, no impact), shifting to Community College (1 year, nothing) and finally dropped into Alabama (1 year, decent numbers). He certainly took some time making an impact but he did become a producer in his final year. Long and well built, he might have that hybrid Safety/LB frame that’s heavily in demand. Has some instincts and can play outside press when needed. Showed some ball skills at Alabama, so potential is there.
BAD: Ran a very mediocre 40 at the Combine and his play speed on film looks average too. Has mirror skills, but gave up big plays downfield. Despite good overall athleticism Smith lacks strength needed to play press consistently and that’s why he is probably relegated to Zone in the NFL. He has a lot of sloppy technique to fix before he’s going to be trusted with a lot of playing time
BOTTOM LINE: High floor low ceiling prospect. Coming from Alabama we expect such a high level of ability and a short transition to starter role in the NFL. But that’s no guarantee with every kid and Smith is one of those that is either going to take coaching and the pro weight program to heart and make a huge impact in year 3 or he’s going to bust out quickly and maybe bounce around the NFL as a sub package Nickel or Dime hybrid. Zone dominant teams may not value him as highly since playing time in these roles would be much greater and he might not be able to handle that.