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 Michigan DT/NT Mazi Smith.
#58 MAZI SMITH/DT MICHIGAN – 6’3″, 323 POUNDS
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Mazi Smith||6’3″ / 323||9 3/4″||33 3/4″||N/A|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Great stout frame with thick lower body and midsection
— Tremendous upper body strength in the weight room and on the field
— Surprisingly great athletic ability for his size
— Uses his strength to recover and win reps that he otherwise would lose
— Generates great power when he lands his long arm, allows him to win the half-man relationship
— Has the burst and strength to develop into a good interior pass rusher
— Heavy hands and good latch strength enable his violent push/pull move and helps him steer offensive linemen against the run
— Demands double teams, rarely loses big-on-big
— Solid mental processing, keeps his eyes in the backfield while engaging blocks
— Solid motor as long as he is close to the play
— Slow reaction time off the snap, leading to a slower first step than his athleticism would indicate
— Marginal hand usage, limits his potential play strength because he struggles to create power without solid hand placement
— Pass rushing ability is hampered by a slow first step
— Pad level issues lead him to whiffed tackles and leverage disadvantage at point of contact
— Drop off in effort when he deems himself too far from the play
— Doesn’t get his hands up in the passing lanes
— Redshirt junior prospect from Grand Rapids, Michigan
— 21 years old, will be 22 in June
— Four-star prospect coming out of East Kentwood High School
— Played 35 games, starting 28
— 70 career tackles, 2 sacks
— Number one player on Bruce Feldman’s “College Football Freaks” list for 2022
— Two-time All-Big 10
— Two-time Academic All-Big 10
— Team Captain
— Plead guilty to misdemeanor gun charges in December of 2022
The part of Smith’s game that sticks out is his raw upper body strength and his ability to ragdoll offensive linemen when things go right. If he can land his punch, keep his feet moving a little, and keep a reasonable pad level it allows his upper body strength to shine. The cutup below starts with a longarm on Steve Avila, who is known for his anchor. Smith is able to toss Avila to the side on his way to the quarterback. The next two clips show his ability to push the pocket and navigate through double teams using a push/pull with punishing strength. His pass rush is not normally this refined, but he has the tools and some of the moves work with as he develops further.
While consistency lacks in his pass rush, he is much further along in his development against the run. He has a high motor playing inside, fighting through blocks and finishing well against the run. The first clip shows him losing a rep, only to fight back across the offensive lineman’s face with a high motor to make the tackle. Next, he shows off his body control twisting his body 180 degrees and wrapping up to secure the tackle saving a large gain. The third part of the cutup, he stacks the defender for a moment before crashing down into the gap for the run stop.
Smith has a good sense for when screen passes are going to happen, but you can tell at times that he is having to think which slows down his overall play speed. In the first part of this clip, he sniffs out the screen pass when the guard disengages from the block and manages to get his eyes to the quarterback and bat down the pass. In the second part of the clip, he ends up with a free untouched path to the quarterback. The only problem is, the alarm went off in his head a second too late resulting in him hesitating, stumbling as he attempts to change direction and breaking contain resulting in a 10-yard gain rather than a loss of yards.
Smith projects well as a 0-tech nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, though he has good enough length and athleticism to kick further outside. The sheer strength is tantalizing and he flashes it just enough to make you think he could develop into an impact interior pass rusher. The only issue is the pass rush production is very low from his time at Michigan. He applied a number of pressures, but only finished with two career sacks. His floor is high enough against the run to be draftable in the first three rounds, but what teams think about his pass rush will determine how high his stock ultimately gets.
His main areas of opportunity will be improving his anticipation of the snap to increase his get-off speed and working on lowering his pad level to increase leverage and let his upper body strength shine.
There are some lofty expectations for him at the NFL Combine with his strength and agility numbers rumored to be in the upper echelon of his position. A good performance there will elevate Smith’s stock if teams are comfortable with the off-field concern. My pro comparison for him is Dontari Poe.
The Steelers have been in need of an impact player in the middle of their defense since Tyson Alualu’s injury in the 2021 season, and the run defense has been up-and-down as a result with extra pressure being applied to the oft-maligned inside linebacker group. A dominant force in the middle of the defensive line could be the missing piece to take the Steelers’ defense to the next level. So, could Mazi Smith be that dominant force? He flashes every bit of that potential, but struggled to put it all together in his senior season like many expected him to. Pick 32 seems a bit rich, but he could be in play at pick 49 or 80 on day two.
Projection: Mid Day Two
Depot Draft Grade: 8.2 – Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)
Games Watched: at Ohio State (2022), vs TCU (2022), at Michigan State (2021), at Penn State (2021)