Braden Smith is the first 2014 offensive lineman that I’m evaluating and this kid is a fastball right at the belt. Watching his film it’s easy to see why the Irish and 13 other schools, including Michigan, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Nebraska have offered him a scholarship.
The Irish are on roll with 2013 lineman and are now looking to continue that trend with the class of 2014. Smith would be a great addition and could be a kid who plays earlier than expected.
The kid is 16 and already he’s got the size that most major colleges hope their offensive line recruits have when they come into camp as 18 year-olds. At 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, Smith has room to grow and I’d swear he almost looks lean on film, which isn’t a negative comment in any way.
With a body that could gain another inch or two in the next two years, there’s no reason he couldn’t gain 30 to 40 pounds and still look like an athlete. Athletic lineman who can move are starting to become the standard with many colleges over oversized and un-athletic lineman who are mountains, but can barely get out of their stances.
I was very impressed with the Olathe, Kan. native’s athletic ability. He’s got a lighting quick first step, moves laterally like he’s on skates, and stays on his feet with unbelievable consistency. Any time someone who’s 280 pounds can make himself look like he’s 230 pounds, there’s athletic ability abound.
He’s is not your run-of-the-mill offensive lineman when it comes to athleticism, making him a hot prospect to fit into any type of offense his college of choice runs. He’s quick enough to pull, trap, pass-set, zone block, or straight ahead base block. His lateral movement is effortless and makes him look like a tight end in a guard’s body. His balance after contact is even and controlled, allowing him to stay on his feet longer, thus allowing him to block longer.
SKILLS AND TECHNIQUE
Where do I start? As a coach, when I watched film on an offensive lineman I always looked for pad level, and this still rings true with me as an evaluator. The Olathe South High standout starts low and stays low. His pad level is perfect, even after he pulls or traps, which is tough to do as some players have a tendency to rise up as they pull or trap.
Adding to his nearly perfect pad level is his hand placement – which always seem to be inside of whatever defender he’s blocking. He fires his hands inside with purpose, there’s no hesitation or waiting for what the defender is doing, he takes the fight to them.
Once he fires off the ball and makes contact he does a great job of keeping his shoulders over his knees just enough so he’s not overextending himself. He also keeps a nice wide base which, at this point, allows him to have the perfect mixture of balance and power. Once he has the defender locked up, his aggressive nature takes over.
What really caught my eye was how he finishes blocks, a direct result of how well he stays on his feet and what a flat-out monster this kid is on the field. He drives his legs and is going to keep blocking until he either flattens the guy he’s engaged with or the referee blows the whistle. You can’t teach this type of aggression and you get the sense that he loves the physical aspect of the game.
I mentioned his quickness as puller/trapper, and I believe it’s one of the stronger aspects of his game. He’s out of his stance in a hurry and immediately eyeballs his prey, whether it’s a defensive end on the line of scrimmage or a linebacker at the next level. When he arrives at his target there’s a burst of power that he uses to explode into the defender who, at that point, doesn’t have a chance.
There aren’t a whole lot of negatives I can point out with this kid. He’s athletic, quick, stays low, has great hand placement, keeps his base wide, runs his feet, finishes blocks, and has a mean-streak. He does have a slight tendency to drop his head when he’s engaged in a block, which happens so rarely that it’s hardly worth mentioning. When the head drops, a good defender can use that momentum to send the blocker to the ground, freeing himself to make the tackle.
In case you haven’t figured it out already, I kind of like Smith a lot. I’m the biggest stickler when it comes to offensive line play, as that’s what I played and coached for almost 25 years, and I watched his film numerous times and he’s the real deal.
Any team that is lucky enough to sign him will get a dominant, well-rounded, athletic lineman who can play center, guard or tackle.
Size: 95 (He could be 6-foot-7, 320 pounds in two years)
Strength: 90 (Lower body strength is evident in all aspects of his game)
Speed: 95 (Pulls, traps, and gets off the ball like a gunshot)
Athletic Skills: 95 (Looks smooth and effortless in everything he does)
Technique: 95 (Every piece of the blocking puzzle fits perfectly)
Versatility: 95 (can play all three o-line positions effectively)
Upside: 5.0 (He can be a great one)
Overall Grade: 5.0
90-100 – Elite/Exceptional: Skill set is rare and gives prospect ability to dominate
80-89 – Very Good/Outstanding: Skill set is a significant strength
70-79 – Average: Skill set is solid, not a significant weakness
60-69 – Below Average: Skill set is not a strength for this player and could become a liability
50-59 – Very Poor: Prospect does not possess this trait and it is a definite liability
OVERALL/UPSIDE GRADE KEY
5 – Elite: Player is one of the best players at his position nationally, potentially dominant
4 – Very Good/Outstanding: Player is a potential standout and starter, could also play early
3 – Solid: Player is a potential contributor, could eventually start down the road
2 – Below Average: Player does not possess the talent to be a significant contributor
1 – Poor: Let’s be honest, Notre Dame is not going to bring in anyone with a one!!