Coming off a rather disappointing 8-9 season, the New England Patriots have plenty of potential for improvement. They already addressed some areas of need so far this offseason, but will now look to add long-term stability and additional playmaking ability through the NFL Draft. With 11 selections in hand, Bill Belichick and company are in a good position to do just that.
How they will ultimately use those picks remains to be seen. However, there are several players who would fit what they are looking for both at positions of need and at other spots all over the roster.
In our Patriots Draft Targets series, we will be taking a close look at some prospects we believe might be falling into that “fit” category. Today, let’s assess a projected Day 2 cornerback.
Name: Cam Smith
School: South Carolina
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’0 3/4”, 180 lbs, 76 1/8” wing span, 31 5/8” arm length, 9 1/8” hand size
Workout numbers: 4.43s 40-yard dash, 38” vertical jump, 11’2” broad jump, 9.68 Relative Athletic Score
A multi-sport athlete growing up, Smith was a standout football player and track runner in high school. A four-star recruit entering the college level, he received offers from multiple colleges but stayed local: the Blythewood native picked South Carolina over offers from Georgia and Tennessee.
All in all and including his redshirt freshman year, Smith spent four seasons with the Gamecocks. He appeared in 33 games with 19 starts and registered 91 tackles, six interceptions and a forced fumble. He also blocked a field goal during his 2022 junior campaign. An invitee to this year’s Scouting Combine, he elected to skip his senior season to turn pro.
Expected round: 2nd (Top 50)
Strengths: Smith is an intriguing athlete who combines sufficient length with considerable burst out of his stance. His 10-yard split (1.49s) and broad jump (11’2”) are ranked in the 89- and 96-percentile for cornerbacks entering the NFL and he plays as such: Smith is an explosive defender who can smoothly transition in and out of his breaks and follow opposing wide receivers from the slot and the perimeter. He also has showcased a willingness to come down with a purpose in the run and screen game.
Smith’s athletic skillset is supported by some of the best coverage instincts in this year’s class. He has a natural feel for breaking onto the ball and anticipating patterns, and is a highly competitive and confident player in man-to-man situations. Additionally, he has good spatial awareness, vision, and the necessary speed to also cover zones. He can play off the ball and in press, and has experience aligning both inside and outside. He furthermore has a good feel for the ball, breaking up 20 passes in his last 22 games.
There's a lotta good CBs in this draft, but Cam Smith deserves more recognition than he seems to be getting— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 21, 2023
Smooth, explosive athlete with ball skills who can thrive in off or press, has some of the best coverage instincts in the class, and wants all the smoke vs runs/screens pic.twitter.com/Pkscfby95l
Weaknesses: Smith’s build is a question mark. While he has the appropriate height at just under 6-foot-1, his 180-pound frame is in the 8-percentile. His lack of bulk might make it hard for him to consistently a) compete at the catch point against NFL-caliber wideouts, b) shed blocks in the running game, and c) reroute players in press-man. Smith’s lack of bulk might also have contributed to his penalty issues (10 in 2022) and relatively high number of missed tackles (17.2% in 2022).
Smith has the willingness to tackle, but he needs to get better at finishing; he oftentimes comes in too hot and with improper strike angles. In general, he needs to work on his contact technique across the board — from tackling to pressing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. He also has missed time due to injury, including one game because of a concussion last season.
What would be his role in 2023? Smith projects as a potential starter early in his career, and would get the opportunity to compete for a top role on the outside in New England’s defense. The team would have to pick between him as well as Jalen Mills, Shaun Wade, Quandre Mosely, Rodney Randle Jr. and any other potential additions to find a starter opposite projected top perimeter option Jack Jones. Smith getting the nod would not be a surprise, but it will depend on his ability to quickly adapt to the requirements of the NFL game. At the very least, though, he would be a top rotational guy.
What is his growth potential? By Year 2, Smith would ideally be locked into a starting role on the perimeter and become a more sound player all-around. Some time in an NFL strength program should help him get to that point; the same is true for experience against the league’s speed and physicality as well as improved technical skills. His natural feel for the game and solid athletic makeup gives him a solid foundation to work on, though.
Does he have positional versatility? He has indeed. Smith has scheme flexibility, playing both press-man and zone snaps at South Carolina. In addition, he has shown the ability to move between alignments. In 2022, per Pro Football Focus, he played 357 snaps split out wide (of 590; 60.5%), 196 in the slot (33.2%), 20 in the box (3.4%), 10 deep (1.7%) and seven on the line of scrimmage (1.2%). He also was used on the field goal block team, registering one blocked kick when he timed the snap perfectly to fly around the edge.
What adding him would mean for the depth chart: The competition for the starting outside cornerback spots would get a lot more interesting with Smith in the fold. A roster lock based on his expected draft status, he would seriously challenge the other players vying for that spot. Additionally, adding him to the mix would likely spell the road for some of the players who are currently on the team. Depth options Shaun Wade, Quandre Mosely and Rodney Randle Jr. in particular would be put in a tough spot.
Why the Patriots make sense as a landing spot: The Patriots have solid overall depth in their secondary, but the starting outside cornerback spots are TBD even with Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant back, and with Jack Jones, Marcus Jones and Jalen Mills still in the mix. New England could opt to go for a Jonathan Jones/Jalen Mills plus Jack Jones combo, but adding a player of Smith’s talent on a rookie contract would make plenty of sense.
Patriots contact: Scouting Combine
Verdict: The Patriots could opt to go cornerback in the first round, but if they decide against it for whichever reason Smith would be a solid get in Round 2. While he is raw in some areas, he offers a lot of what the team covets at the position: he has good size, instincts and ball production, and has never been a player afraid of getting his hands dirty. He might not offer the same Day 1 starting potential as the first-round CB prospects, but the team’s coaches would likely find a way to make proper use of him from early on.
Would Smith be a good fit for the Patriots? Where do you think he will be drafted? Please head down to the comment section to discuss!