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2021 NFL Draft prospect profile: Elerson Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa

Elerson Smith is an under the radar prospect, but could he be a sleeper for the Giants?

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have a history of drafting heavily from the Senior Bowl. Whether it is Jerry Reese or Dave Gettleman turning in the draft card, the Giants have routinely selected players who distinguished themselves in Mobile.

This year one of the pleasant surprises in both practices and in the game was EDGE player Elerson Smith from Northern Iowa. Smith has very good size and length for a modern EDGE at 6-foot-6 12 inches and 262 pounds, as well as impressive production in 2019.

Smith has some work to do to raise his draft stock after missing the 2020 season (due to COVID-19) and playing at a lower level of competition. He got a good start at that on the field in this year’s Senior Bowl, flashing in practice and having a strong game.

Note: I wasn’t able to find a cutup of Elerson that I can freely share. I will update with tape when I can find it.

Prospect: Elerson Smith

Games Watched: vs. Iowa State (2019), vs. North Dakota State (2019), vs. Weber State (2019)

Measurables

2019 Stats

Games Played: 15
Tackles: 63
Tackles For a loss: 21.5
Sacks: 14.0
Forced Fumbles: 5
Passes Defensed: 4

Quick Summary

Best: Length, hand usage, pass rush
Worst: Run defense
Projection: Rotational pass rusher in a multiple defense.

Tape

(Elerson is Northern Iowa EDGE number 17)

Full Report

Northern Iowa EDGE Elerson Smith is a long, lean edge player who manages to combine good athleticism, play strength, and flexibility.

Smith typically aligned as a defensive end in Northern Iowa’s 4-man front, playing both the 7 and 9-techniques on both the left and right sides of the defense. He also moved inside to the 5 or 4i-technique when Northern Iowa used defensive packages with 3 down linemen. Smith was also asked to rush from a 2-point stance on occasion as well.

He played with good leverage and a solid burst off the line of scrimmage from all positions and alignments. Smith showed good hip and pad level, staying low to maintain leverage as he rushed upfield. He generally uses good hand technique when taking on offensive linemen, working to gain the blockers’ chest plate as well as using a variety of pass rush techniques. Smith showed solid play strength as a power rusher, using a bull rush and long-arm move to walk blockers backward. He also has surprising lower-body flexibility when rushing with speed, allowing him to bend the edge well for a taller pass rusher.

Smith does a good job of taking on blockers on the back side of run plays, using his hands and length well to keep linemen from locking in and controlling him, as well as a wide base to absorb power.

Smith shows good awareness and football IQ in deciphering misdirection and tracking the football in the backfield. He reacts quickly to play fakes, as well as good mental agility to break off rushes to obstruct passing lanes or pursue screen plays. Smith generally plays with good competitive toughness, fighting through blocks and showing a strong motor in pursuit.

While Smith is a fine run defender on the back side of plays, he suffers when asked to hold up on the play-side. Offenses were able to move him off the ball when running in his direction. He was also reach-blocked a bit too easily and needs to do a better job of putting his hips in gaps to maintain leverage there. Smith also lacks elite athleticism, and his first step seems to depend more on snap timing than explosiveness.

Overall Grade: 7.0 - Smith has a high floor, and should be a dependable contributor. He could develop into an important role player — or even starter — in the right situation.

Projection

Elerson Smith projects best as a rotational pass rusher in a multiple defense. He has the experience and ability to line up as a classic 4-3 defensive end in nickel downs, as well as an athletic 3-4 defensive end, or as a stand-up rusher from a 2-point stance.

That versatility should give a creative defensive coordinator plenty of options for getting Smith on the field and putting him situations to win. Smith doesn’t have the kind of athleticism shared by most elite pass rushers, but his blend of size, length, and lower-body flexibility are intriguing. He also comes out of college with an idea of what to do with his hands, which should further shorten his learning curve.

Elerson shouldn’t be put in position to have to defend the run on the front side of the play. He can play the run from the back side, using his length to disengage and pursue the play. However, he is moved off the ball a bit too easily to be put on the field often in short-yardage situations — at least not early in his career.

Elerson should be a good value who can give a team depth at pass rusher early on. He has the traits to develop into a reliable rotational EDGE and could have starting upside in the right situation.