It’s time for our annual season top 10! Each summer, the staff votes on its top 10 players ahead of the upcoming season. A first place vote is worth 10 points, second place is worth nine points, and so on.
How He Got Here
Smith came to Penn State as the crown jewel in the 2019 recruiting recruiting class. He was rated by 247Sports as the top linebacker in the country and the 12th-ranked overall recruit.
Unsurprisingly, he saw the field early and often for the Nittany Lions. Smith played in all 13 games as a true freshman, flashing at times but struggling a bit to find consistency. With Micah Parsons out of the picture in 2020, Smith stepped into a bigger role as the starting SAM linebacker.
As a sophomore, with heightened expectations, Smith had an up and down showing, not unlike the entirety of the Penn State team. He started all nine games and made 37 tackles, including a team-high eight tackles for loss as well as two sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception. However, Smith also struggled in times in coverage and had a tendency of running himself out of plays while chasing the ball.
Still though, the physical traits are extremely evident and with a real offseason and a change of positions, Smith is primed and ready to become an all-conference caliber player.
What To Expect in 2021
Smith is making the move from SAM linebacker to WILL linebacker in Brent Pry’s 4-3 base defense. This mean’s he’ll be in coverage less often and spending more time around the line of scrimmage and blitzing. This move should suit him well as the “see ball, get ball” nature of position is a perfect fit for the young backer who loves to get downhill and does so in a hurry.
Expect Smith to be used similarly to how Micah Parsons was used in 2018 and 2019 and while he doesn’t quite have the physical traits that made Parsons into one of, if not the best defensive player in the nation, he’s not all that far off.
I think the full offseason combined with the position switch could see Smith make the jump to an all-conference or even all-american level player. He has an excellent shot of leading the team in tackles and we could see the tackle for loss number jump as well as the sack total which I believe could be as high as seven or eight. If all goes according to plan, it’s very possible we see the type of player that earned his five-star rating coming out of high school.