As we have continued rolling through our player-by-player profiles of the New York Giants 90-man roster, we recently what fair expectations would be for rookie edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, selected in Round 2 of the NFL Draft.
Let’s ask the same question about Elerson Smith, another promising edge rusher the Giants selected in Round 4.
Contract: Year 1 of four-year, $4.238 million contract | Guaranteed: $758,288 | 2021 cap hit: $849,572
Career to date
Smith arrived at Northern Iowa as what coach Mark Farley called a “really frail, skinny” 6-foot-6, 190-pound athlete. He has become a 255-pound pass-rushing behemoth.
Smith red-shirted, then barely played in 2017, registering 3 tackles, a half-sack and two passes defensed. In 2018, there was a hint of what was to come — 7.5 sacks. In 2019, an explosion of inflicting punishment on quarterbacks — 14.0 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed. Smith didn’t get a chance to play in 2020 as the Missouri Valley Conference moved its season to the spring, causing him to declare for the NFL.
After an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, the first time anyone from the NFL had seen him perform while carrying more than 235 or so pounds, the Giants snagged him with the 116th pick of the draft.
In a post predicting 2021 production for Giants rookies, our Nick Falato projected this line for Smith:
- 15 games
- 19 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss
- 3.5 sacks, 17 pressures, 1 PBU
“Smith isn’t a complete player quite yet - he needs to become better against the run and develop speed to power rush ability - yet he’s still very intriguing because of his lateral quickness, short area burst, and ability to use his hands and feet in conjunction with each other.
“Smith has lightning quick hands that he flashes, and he does a good job keeping his hand open to grab cloth and cause balance issues against opposing offensive lineman. He’ll be effective in the stunt game with Leonard Williams in passing situations until he can develop his game and become more reliable as a three-down player.”
Falato’s prediction of 3.5 sacks for Smith in 2021 would be a nice number for the 22-year-old. Expectations for his first season should not, in my view, be too high.
First of all, the Giants have excellent depth on the edge. Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Ojulari, Cam Brown, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Ryan Anderson and Niko Lalos are all part of the competition for snaps at that spot. Knowing defensive coordinator Patrick Graham he will likely mix and match based on the skill sets he wants on the field at any given time. Part-time pass-rushing duty is probably where Smith fits.
Secondly, this is a young man who played at the FCS level — and has not played since 2019 as the Missouri Valley Conference postponed its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If Smith develops the way the Giants hope, he and Ojulari could form a terrific pass-rushing duo. For now, though, let’s just appreciate whatever contributions Smith is able to make.