2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: South Carolina CB Cam Smith

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections, and priority undrafted free agents. Today we’ll be profiling South Carolina CB Cam Smith.

Cam Smith #9/CB South Carolina 6’0” 188

Measurements

Player Ht/Wt Hand size Arm Length Wingspan
Cam Smith 6’0 188 N/A N/A N/A
40 Yard Dash 10 Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
N/A N/A N/A N/A
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
N/A N/A N/A

 The Good

— Solid versatility, matching receivers both on the boundary and in the slot in his collegiate career, even gained a couple snaps aligned as a post safety, as well as some as a sub package LB (think Cam Sutton’s role in Dime)
— Possess prototype size for the position, will be interesting to see how his arm length measures out later in the draft process
— Patient footwork at the line of scrimmage, able to force receivers off their path with wide releases
— Solid hips for his size, able to turn and run seamlessly from press coverage alignments
— Length allows him to be disruptive when closing to the catch point
— Solid physicality as a tackler, accelerates through the ball carrier and attacks the lower half with violence
— Does a solid job of avoiding oncoming blockers in space, triggers quickly and uses his leverage to beat offensive lineman in space on screen plays
— Good instincts and patience in off-man coverage, reads receivers tempo and posture well to anticipate their breaks at the top of routes, cutting them off with physicality
— Does a solid job to fight and compete to shed stalk blocks
— Does a great job of using his size to squeeze receivers into the sideline downfield
— Finishes with violence and physicality at the catch point
— Has shown versatility in his press coverage plan (soft shoe, mirror press, jump jam, off hand jam, etc..), a true technician at the position
— Does a good job of staying active in man coverage, reads QB downfield and looks to help off his man
— Possesses great hit power for a player of his stature and position
— Shows great range and athleticism when
— Has shown to be extremely fluid in his speed turn, flipping his head and body seamlessly
— Extremely effective as a tackler, not always going to be pretty, but ball carriers end up on the ground
— Plays with great energy, clearly an effective communicator, often the first player to hype up teammates after a big play

The Bad

— Extremely aggressive and physical, style can lend itself to undisciplined play at times
— Can struggle to get off blocks when engaged with larger framed blockers, although most cornerbacks struggle in these instances
— Has shown to have inconsistent eye discipline at times downfield, lending himself to bite on double moves 

Bio

— 91 tackles 3.5 TFLs 1 FF 6 INTs 18 PDs
— 2022: 27 tackles 1 TFL 1 INT 5 PDs
— 2021: 41 tackles 2.5 TFLs 1 FF 3 INTs 11 PDs
— 2021 AP Second Team All-SEC
— 2021 PFF All-America Honorable Mention
— 2022 Second Team All-SEC (Phil Steele) 

Tape Breakdown

Each offseason, along with the rest of the staff here at Steelers Depot, I transition my focus to the NFL Draft class, where I primarily focus on defensive back prospects. Likewise, I figured the best place to start with this year’s class would be with a guy that might end up being my highest rated defensive back come draft time, the man in mention being South Carolina’s Cam Smith.

After playing sparingly as a true freshman and gaining an increased role in his redshirt freshman season, Smith burst onto the season as a redshirt sophomore in 2021, starting all 11 games and tallying 41 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses, a forced fumble, 3 interceptions and 11 passes defended. Throughout his redshirt sophomore season, Smith showed the ability to match top receivers in the SEC, effectively executing a variety of coverage assignments while showing a knack for generating timely turnovers. As a run defender, Smith finished his collegiate career as one of the more complete cornerback prospects in recent years, with the size, physicality, and required mentality to serve as an impact defender in the run game as well as the pass game.

While his redshirt junior season was admittedly quieter statistically speaking, like most dominant cornerbacks at the collegiate level, Smith often found himself avoided by SEC quarterbacks this past season, before entering the draft, seemingly as the consensus top cornerback prospect. With the desired size, athleticism, physicality, and mentality for the position, Smith certainly could have carved out a solid college career relying on his unique physical talents. Regardless, what makes Cam Smith a uniquely NFL ready prospect despite being an undergraduate NFL draft prospect, his advanced technique was immediately apparent when studying film from his 2021 redshirt sophomore season.

In the modern day college football landscape, most cornerbacks finish their career without much, if any experience executing off-man coverage from a backpedal. With many of the top coaches at the FBS level, including Nick Saban, favoring the side shuffle alignment/skate technique in a quarters based defense, most coaches prefer their corners to play man coverage assignments almost exclusively from press coverage alignments, where they can face a limited route tree. Thus, corners who can show the ability to stay comfortable and patient in their backpedal are far more prepared for their transition to the NFL level, where off-man coverage is far more prevalent. For this reason, I tend to favor cornerbacks that have off-man coverage experience and fluid backpedaling reps on their collegiate tape.

With Clemson facing a third and long situation, South Carolina comes out in a Cover 1 Hole look, with Cam Smith playing off-man coverage, giving the receiver eight yards of cushion prep snap. At the snap, Smith patiently gives ground in his backpedal, staying square and maintaining low-pad level, opening into a crossover run before effortlessly planting and breaking downhill on the comeback route, which he likely picks if the ball is thrown on target. Possessing fluid hips, technical footwork, and the discipline to stay square and play with proper pad level, Smith is one of the more technically sound cornerback prospects I have evaluated in the draft process.

Another positive trait that jumped out when evaluating Cam Smith’s South Carolina tape was his versatility in alignment, gaining snaps on the boundary, in the slot, at post safety, and occasionally crowding the line of scrimmage in a dimebacker role. His versatility in alignment and usage gave me flashbacks to Jalen Ramsey during his time at Florida State.

With South Carolina once again in a Cover 1 look, this time, Cam Smith matches up in the slot, aligned at nine yards depth prior to the snap. Post snap, Smith does a great job of staying square with solid pad level, playing from a catch man technique before opening his hips to carry the Clemson receiver vertically. Downfield, Smith shows poise while playing from trail technique, turning to locate the football and jetting past the receiver to secure an impressive interception. As complete cornerback prospect as you will see, Smith’s trust in his recovery speed downfield allows him to bait quarterbacks into explosive play targets, where he routinely takes the football away.

I often view elite tackling ability as a plus trait, if not a necessary trait in top cornerback prospects. In studying Cam Smith’s tape, he is among the best, if not the best, cornerback I have ever evaluated in terms of pure tackling ability. Possessing great physicality and hit power for his size, Smith looks to punish ball carriers and pass catchers at every opportunity.

On the first rep against Vanderbilt, playing to the quarters side of a split field coverage look up to the top of the screen, Smith sinks to midpoint a smash concept, forcing the quarterback to throw short of the sticks. As the quarterback releases to the hitch just shy of the sticks, Smith plants and explodes downfield, arriving to execute a textbook hawk/roll tackle, raking the ball out for a forced fumble, and keeping the receiver well short of the sticks. Cam Smith plays with a physical demeanor and a playmakers mindset, always looking to generate turnovers in key moments.

The next rep, from a road matchup against East Carolina, might be the most impressive rep I witnessed Cam Smith put on tape. Aligned in off-man coverage on the ECU receiver, playing from a tight split, Smith follows the receiver across the formation, sifting through traffic to stay clean before closing downhill and finishing with a physical stick on the receiver. Smith plays with fiery competitive energy, capitalizing on every opportunity to punish opposing receivers with his physicality, imposing his will on his matchups as the game progresses.

Moving onto Cam Smith’s single best trait, which makes him a top tier prospect at the position, Smith may be the best, most technically sound, press-man coverage corner in the draft. Similar to his off man technique, Smith’s trust in his downfield recovery speed and ability to play the football from out of phase allow him to play with unique patience at the line of scrimmage, using his length to disrupt receivers.

On the first rep, against Vanderbilt, Smith aligns in press man coverage to the top of the screen, on an island with no safety help. At the snap, Smith stays static, forcing the receiver to take a wide outside release before kick stepping into his transition, opening his hips to carry vertically, and establishing contact with the receivers hip, initiating the process of squeezing him into the sideline. Once contact is established, Smith begins to lean and locate the football, turning into the receiver to maintain control on the upfield shoulder, and using his length to play the pocket and secure the pass breakup.

Smith is able to use his combination of length and physicality to both disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage, as well as limiting their ability to secure contested catches downfield. On the next rep, this time on the road against Clemson, Smith aligns in press man coverage, once again playing without safety help. At the snap, Smith patiently gives ground with a soft-shoe press technique, forcing the receiver to re-route himself into the sideline with a wide release before fluidly transitioning to carry the receiver downfield, locating the ball from trail technique, and perfectly timing his punch to play through the hands and secure the pass breakup downfield. In my opinion the two things that every great defensive back has are the ability to generate pass breakups playing from out of phase and the ability to routinely convert tips and overthrows into interceptions. Needless to say, Cam Smith possesses both skills.

If I were to describe Cam Smith’s game in one word, relentless keeps coming to mind. His maniacal pursuit of the football on run plays and unrelenting competitiveness downfield to secure pass breakups are continually impressive. Below, playing in press man coverage against ECU once again, Smith finds himself targeted on a jump ball downfield, fighting through contact from the receiver to maintain his balance and tip the football with his left hand, before tipping it back up with his right hand in an attempt to secure the pick.

As the receiver appears ready to secure the tip in bounds for a circus catch, Smith regains his balance immediately, closing with a pin-point accurate punch to physically dislodge the football from the receiver. A catch here likely gets chalked up to “good defense, better offense” in the film room, but in Cam Smith’s world, allowing explosive play catches happens rarely, if ever. His poise, competitiveness, and precision in playing the pocket downfield are among the best I have ever seen in evaluating the NFL draft.

My only true knock on Smith’s game comes from the Mike Tomlin school of “you would rather say woah than sic’ em”, with the talented corner occasionally falling victim to his own relentless mindset of wanting to make impact plays on every snap. Occasionally, Smith will get caught biting on double moves in man coverage or vacating his zone in zone coverage in attempts to make impact plays, which admittedly comes with the territory of being a great player.

Below, against Vanderbilt, Smith operates as the flat defender in a Cover 2 scheme, re-routing a receiver inside before noticing the quarterback flushed out of the pocket, and leaving the flat, seeking the knockout shot on the scrambling quarterback. As Smith attacks the quarterback, the receiver is able to find open space in the flat in a scramble drill situation, turning 2nd and long into 3rd and short after a decent catch and run. This rep is a perfect example of “do your job” and don’t overcompensate for others, as with the pass rush in hot pursuit, the quarterback is likely looking at a best case throwaway scenario, forcing a lengthy third down, if Smith stays in his flat and plasters the receiver.

Conclusion

Overall, Cam Smith is as complete a cornerback prospect as you will see, with the desired size, physicality, and athleticism to dominate at the position in his transition to the NFL. Moreover, he is advanced when compared to the modern landscape of collegiate cornerbacks in his ability to dominate from any zone assignment, along with both press and off-man coverage. Needless to say, Smith is a playmaker in every sense of the word, looking to change the game on any given snap, often doing so at crucial points in games.

With his unique physicality, Smith can certainly be moved around in sub-packages, with some potential to be unlocked as a blitzer from the slot at the next level. Any team that drafts Smith should be getting an immediate impact starter on the boundary, with the ability to travel with top receivers and generate turnovers at a healthy rate. Cam Smith reminds me a bit of fellow Gamecock Stephon Gilmore, both with their similarities in overall movement skills, attention to detail as technicians, playmaking mindset, and physicality both in coverage and in the tackling department.

While I am not nearly as sold as others on cornerback as a top need in Pittsburgh, under the circumstances that both Cam Sutton and James Pierre are re-signed, you can never have enough coverage personnel in the modern NFL, and Smith would vault Pittsburgh’s secondary to new heights. Alongside Cam Sutton and Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh would field an extremely talented secondary, capable of matching up with any receiving core across the league. While still early in the process, I’d be surprised if Cam Smith isn’t my highest rated corner come the conclusion of my draft evaluation at the position.

Projection: Mid to Late Day One

Depot Draft Grade: 8.7 – Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)

Games Watched: at East Carolina (2021), at Kentucky (2021), vs Clemson (2021), vs Vanderbilt (2021)

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