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Draft Darlings: Mazi Smith could be a fit for the Chiefs

This big interior lineman could bring power, leverage, and explosion to Kansas City.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOV 26 Michigan at Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In April’s NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs could use some help at defensive tackle. The University of Michigan’s Mazi Smith could provide it.


Standing 6 feet 3 and weighing 337 pounds, Smith can be described as a load. In the NFL, players of this size (think of Brandon Williams) are often used as gap-fillers and space-eaters, taking on double teams and staying stout at the line of scrimmage.

But while Smith certainly has plenty of size, he also has an athletic skill set that very few men of his size possess.

While athletic testing is not the end-all-be-all for defensive tackles, broad jumps and vertical jumps are still important. These tests help quantify how effectively a player can generate power through their ankles, knees, hips and core muscles from a static position — which resembles coming out of their stance after a snap.

Smith’s testing numbers were superior to many defensive tackles who have ever played the game — and all of the power and explosion the test suggest show up in his film.

Pass rush

While Smith has only recorded one career sack, his impact as an interior pass rusher was very important for Michigan’s defense. Using a combination of power and leverage, he blasted his way through guards to disrupt plays in the backfield.

On this play, Smith lines up as a 3-technique — outside the guard’s shoulder — and explodes off the snap, using a bull rush to blow the right guard back. Then he crosses the guard's face to penetrate through the opposite A-gap between the guard and center. While the guard appears to get away with a hold — grabbing Smith by the shoulders to try and turn him — Smith still crashes into the backfield, forcing the quarterback’s inaccurate throw.

Smith can also use his ferocious power rush to help him set up other moves in his arsenal. When guards start to expect the power rush, he will mix things up by throwing in some quick rushes.

Here we see that the right guard wants to flat-set Smith, hoping to contact him early and prevent him building up his power rush. Smith displays great recognition, understanding that the guard would have more momentum to the outside. So he sells the bull rush with a quick hand throw — knocking the guard off-balance — before disengaging. Then he explodes through the A-gap to force an off-time throw.

In some plays, Smith even shows simultaneous power and quickness.

On this snap, Smith quickly returns to the opposite A-gap. The center does an adequate job of mirroring him; he’s ready to take on any speed rush or quick move. But Smith fires his left arm into the center's right shoulder, displacing him by pulling off a modified hump move. This takes advantage of a blocker's leaning momentum by stabbing the weak side shoulder to create penetration.

Run stuffing

At the next level, Smith’s interior pass rushing will be adequate — but his bread and butter will be stuffing runs.

Given his size, Smith would project to be a 1-technique in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolos’s 4-3 Under scheme. In this position, Smith would frequently need to take on double teams — and stay stout at the line.

On this play, TCU runs zone. The back side tackle and guard are responsible for blocking Smith and working their way up to the second level. Using his superior leverage, Smith holds his position on the line. Out-leveraged, the left guard can only try to prevent Smith from entering the backfield. The running back sees a lane open, but Smith quickly shuts it down by engulfing him.

Although he possesses the strength and size to consistently take on double-teams in the running game, Smith can also use his burst off the ball to fight through blocks in different gaps.

Right from the start of this play, Smith is at a schematic disadvantage: the right guard is attempting to pin him inside while the center pulls to become the lead blocker. The running back is a step away from what could be a big gain. But after working over the top, Smith disengages from his blocker in time to stop the ball carrier.

The bottom line

After teams started to emphasize defending against the league’s high-powered passing attacks, we have seen a re-emergence of run-heavy offenses to counter that approach. The Chiefs are among the teams that need retool their defensive interior, finding players who can complement their star defensive tackle Chris Jones.

At minimum, Smith can be a two-down run stopper in the NFL — but his power, leverage and burst off the ball could also make him a pass-rushing threat. If he ends up in Kansas City, Jones will get so much attention that Smith will be unlikely to face double-teams as a pass rusher.

While facing one-on-one matchups, Smith could use his power rushes to collapse the pockets from the inside to disrupt an offense’s timing — and give other defenders more opportunities for sacks.

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