Possesses an athletic, tight-skinned frame with good overall muscular development. Shows natural cover skills, combining quick feet, fluid hips to change direction and excellent awareness around him. Experienced in press, off-man and zone coverage. Has a short, tight backpedal and does not panic when receivers get to him, showing patience and confidence that he possesses the acceleration to maintain coverage. Anticipates routes well, showing a second gear to close as receivers make their breaks, maintaining position between the receiver and the quarterback. Experience as a receiver shows with his quick hands and very good hand-eye coordination to slap away at passes as they arrive, showing no fear with the ball in flight and turning back for it rather than face-guarding opponents. Showed improved ball-skills in 2017, recording a career-high three interceptions after zero in 2016... Very attentive in run support and of routes around him, quickly breaking off of his primary cover responsibility to help. A physical and reliable open-field tackler who pursues with passion. A four-year starter with no known injuries of note. Voted a team captain in 2017. -- Rob Rang 12/28/2017
Obvious level of competition concerns... Does not possess ideal size for playing the outside cornerback position and has little experience inside at nickel. Lacks ideal height and appears maxed out at 185 pounds. Did not test well prior to signing with Weber State and may play faster than he times due to his awareness... Highly aggressive, biting on underneath routes, which could get him in trouble against the elite athletes and passers of the NFL... Gets grabby, drawing holding flags (California, 2017) for latching on. Only fair ball-skills for a former receiver, intercepting just six of 41 career pass breakups... - Rob Rang 12/28/2017
COMPARES TO: Alterraun Verner, Dolphins - Some questioned the 5-10, 187 pound Verner's ability to stick in the NFL despite a highly productive career at UCLA but now in his eighth season, he has quieted his critics. Like Johnson, Verner is better at breaking up passes (74) than actually intercepting them (15) but he shows a similar quickness and awareness of the ball and in run defense.
IN OUR VIEW: Questions about Johnson's size and speed could dog him throughout the pre-draft process but he certainly was a star in the Big Sky, proving a difference-maker once he stepped onto the field. His lack of ideal bulk could push him inside to nickel corner but this could be a blessing in disguise as he possesses the quickness, instincts and physicality needed for success there.
STRENGTHS: Adequate play speed and range for the position…smooth range of motion…consistent effort in pursuit…smart strike zone as a tackler…trustworthy finisher with the pull-down and grip strength to not allow ballcarriers out of his grasp once he makes contact…football smart and senses his surroundings…eyes trained on the prize, trusting his reads…better drop range than expected as a coverage defender…senior captain with natural leadership traits – blunt, outspoken and not afraid to call out teammates (member of the UCLA debate team)…his 8.5 tacklers per game as a senior ranked second-best in the Pac-12…extensive resume with 42 career starts, spanning various linebacker positions.
WEAKNESSES: Underwhelming size/strength measureables…below average closing speed and won’t narrow the gap in pursuit…lacks NFL functional strength, struggling to sift through the garbage in the trenches…take-on skills are unremarkable…gets himself blocked and occupied too easily when waiting for the ballcarrier…hyper-focused on the ball and doesn’t recognize developing blocks…stops his feet at contact and relies on his upper body to finish…plenty of clean view stat-stuffers on his tape…very reactive in coverage and too liberal with his spacing…flat steps in his pedal and not as comfortable in reverse...missed one game as a senior due to concussion-like symptoms (Sept. 2017).
SUMMARY: A four-year starter at UCLA, Young split his career between the starting MIKE and WILL linebacker positions in the Bruins 4-2-5 base defense. He showed steady improvement over his career on the field and in the stat sheet, finishing his four years in Westwood as the 13th player in school history to reach 300 tackles in his career. Young is an average-twitch athlete with ordinary speed, but his angles and high-effort play style help expand his range. He can be bullied at the line of scrimmage, lacking the take-on violence or physicality to efficiently stack/shed/scrape. Overall, Young makes plays that are there, but he doesn’t play as fast as his testing numbers and his point of attack issues will be tough to overcome.
Passes the eyeball test, and looks the part of an NFL tight end. He revealed body control and sure hands during Senior Bowl practices and game. Smythe has very long arms and catches away from his body. He appears to have a good grasp on blocking angles and positioning. He can block in-line or on the move effectively. Witty enough in limited targets to exploit windows in coverage and knows how to get open, which is evident in his whopping 18.8 yard per reception in 2017. In six of his 13 games played his senior season, Smythe has receptions of 20-plus yards. The ability to stretch a defense resides in his ability. - Bo Marchionte 1/29/2018
Smythe was limited for most of his sophomore season and missed 10 games over the course of his Notre Dame career. His lack of production should bare some concern and allow NFL Scouting departments to delve into the specifics on why the Fighting Irish elected to not use his skill set in the passing game. He is adequate but not great in-line blocker, better on the move and blocking in space, rather than close to the line of scrimmage. He lacks that ability to destroy opponents and blow them off the ball. He'll need to refine his route running. - Bo Marchionte 1/29/2018
Tyler Kroft, Bengals - Kroft was a better overall prospect leaving Rutgers in 2015, but there are similarities between the two tight ends. Kroft was able to display his catching prowess in college and develop his blocking game over time. Smythe has skill set to become a consistent and reliable target next level, while his blocking ability gets him by early in his NFL career.
IN OUR VIEW
Every player approaches this next phase of their draft journey with different pros and cons to their ability. Smythe is one of the players who should benefit from being stripped of any team confinements and reveal his individual talents. The Senior Bowl was the first obstacle he passed with passing grades. Individual drills, shall the opportunity arise at the Scouting Combine, could really propel Smythe, who is coming off a great week at the Senior Bowl.
Fluid athlete in coverage. Above average speed to make plays in the boundary. Flexible hips and agile feet to easily turn without slowing in his transition. Closing speed to attack routes and beat blockers to the spot. Mirrors coverage and tracks the eyes of the quarterback to find passing lanes. Downhill acceleration to make open field stops vs. the run or screens (24 career tackles in the opponent’s backfield). More shoestring tackles than ideal, but strong hands allows him to finish. Responsible for forcing 16 turnovers in his career (10 interceptions, six forced fumbles). Two blocked kicks as a senior. Four-year starter with 42 career starts, splitting his time between free and strong safety. – Dane Brugler 1/6/2018
Streaky tackler due to overaggressive angles. Bad habit of waiting on the ball carrier, instead of initiating contact. Slowed easily and lacks the play strength to tear through blocks. Feet stuck in mud at the top of routes, allowing tight ends and backs to shake and create separation. Downfield route anticipation runs hot-cold. Doesn’t have the make-up speed to close ground in pursuit. Average size for the position and lacks ideal build. Missed playing time over his career due to various injuries, most notably a torn right hamstring (Nov. 2017) that ended his junior year – also missed a game with a left ankle injury (Oct. 2016) and the 2017 bowl game (Dec. 2017) due to bruised ribs. – Dane Brugler 1/6/2018
COMPARES TO: Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers – Similar to Ward out of College, Watts has an appealing skill-set with the athleticism and play strength to handle several responsibilities. But also like Ward, there is an inconsistency factor to consider when drafting Watts.
IN OUR VIEW: Watts is a sometimes player -- meaning sometimes he makes the play, sometimes he gives up the play -- and will need to improve his consistency to stay on the field in the NFL. However, his athleticism and experience are both valuable assets for the next level and give him NFL starting potential at free safety.
STRENGTHS: Outstanding top-end speed…flexible hips and balanced athleticism to pattern match early in the route…clean footwork and transition out of his pedal…not shy coming off his man to freelance and make a play on the ball…more passes defended (42) than starts (38) over his career…offensive playmaker in high school and it shows when he has a chance to attack the football, recording eight career interceptions (two returned for touchdowns)…low tackler with marginal play strength, but he finds ways to get his guy on the ground…finds the quarterback as a blitzer…played special teams at Pitt, blocking an extra point (Dec. 2015) and returning a kickoff for a touchdown…voted a senior captain with the football character that fits in a NFL locker room.
WEAKNESSES: Pint-sized frame with below average length…too easily shielded from the catch point, struggling to gain body position…weak jam attempt and gives up inside position…turns his hips early in the rep, hindering his ability to get back into position…can be run off the top of routes and routinely late on comebacks…route awareness tends to run hot/cold and late to read and get his head turned…tough, reliable tackler in college, but finishing NFL ballcarriers will be a different challenge…lack of size leads to durability concerns, missing two games as a senior due to a right arm injury (Oct. 2017).
SUMMARY: A four-year starter at Pittsburgh, Maddox has experience across the formation, but played primarily man coverage at left cornerback for the Panthers. He led the team in passes defended each of the last three seasons and has the ball skills to take advantage of mistakes by the offense. Maddox doesn’t lack for toughness, but his lack of size/length shows up frequently, especially when matched against bigger receivers, struggling to counter slants, comebacks, etc. While he is a top-tier athlete with the speed and twitch required for the position, his testing numbers don’t always translate to the field, struggling with spacing in coverage. Overall, Maddox has some appealing traits (athleticism, production, toughness) that will give him a chance, but he is built small and plays small, lacking the consistency desired by pro coaches.