By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell
Three years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. A year later, we started the Why Slide? series, and this year, it is back. Feel free to email me requests for "Why the Slide?" and "Why Undrafted?" at firstname.lastname@example.org
. I can't promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely respond.
After a few down years, Michigan had a huge presence in the 2017 NFL Draft with a lot of talented Wolverines coming into the NFL. One of their gritty players who looked like a future draft pick was running back De'Veon Smith. He was a tough downhill runner in Michigan's pro-style offense. Smith also was excellent at the East-West Shrine. NFL coaches who were there in St. Petersburg for practice and the game raved about Smith. Scouts also had a lot of positive feedback as Smith was impressive with his blocking protection skills that week. The NFL is always looking for running backs who are good blockers to help protect franchise quarterbacks, so it was surprising when Smith went undrafted.
Sources said the big catalyst for Smith to go undrafted was a shockingly slow 40 time at his pro day that reinforced some speed concerns. One national scout told WalterFootball.com that he had Smith timed at 4.8 seconds, which is extremely slow for a running back. That scout did say that he really liked Smith as a player though. The 2017 draft class had good running back talent with depth in the mid- and late rounds, so that depth along with Smith's slow time was enough for him to fall through the 2017 NFL Draft.
Smith signed with the Miami Dolphins after he went undrafted, which was a decent landing spot for him. On the down side, the Dolphins have their starter for many years to come with Jay Ajayi, so the starting running back job isn't up for grabs and shouldn't be anytime soon. Miami also has a physically gifted backup running back in Kenyan Drake, who was a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. However, most teams carry three or four running backs on their roster, so Smith will have a good shot at winning a backup job if he can show the ability to contribute on special teams as well as the offense. He will have to beat out the likes of Storm Johnson, Senorise Perry and Damien Williams. That isn't an impossible task with that group. With Smith's balanced skill set and ability to block, he could earn a spot as a backup who also lets the Dolphins rest Ajayi in obvious passing situations with Smith serving as a protector. Smith also could start out on the practice squad, but once teams start sustaining injuries to their running backs it might be hard to keep him there. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith overcomes the speed issue and turns into a quality NFL backup.
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