Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)-#21st Overall Pick
Inside Linebacker, University of Connecticut Huskies
Overall Player Evaluation
Although Smallwood may be small potatoes in comparison with other names from big time schools, his play at the University of Connecticut has been anything but small. Born on Christmas Day in 1991, Smallwood’s story to the NFL is a weird, but justified one. Out of Worcester High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, Smallwood was the ultimate high school athlete. Throughout his career at Worcester, Smallwood played both quarterback and linebacker. At the quarterback position, Smallwood wasn’t as talented, however he was still able to throw for 705 yards and six touchdowns and rush for 646 yards and four touchdowns in his junior year and rush for an unbelievable 769 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns as a senior. On the defensive side of the ball, Smallwood was even mre dominant, tackling opposing ball carriers an average of 80 times per season along with an average of four sacks and four tackles for loss. After committing to UConn for football, Smallwood would end up being red-shirted and then put in as starting middle linebacker the very next season.
In his first season at UConn, Smallwood played extremely well, recording 94 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two passes defended as he returned a fumble and an interception back for a touchdown against Vanderbilt and Buffalo, respectively. The next season for the Massachusett’s linebacker would immediately give him national recognition as a stout and dependable linebacker. As a sophomore, Smallwood registered a spectacular 120 total tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and even two fumbles forced. In all but three games in Smallwood’s sophomore season, the inside linebacker was able to tackle opposing ball carriers nine times (in his three other games Smallwood recorded at least six tackles or more). At the end of the season, Smallwood was eventually named a first team All-BIG EAST selection (according to the University of Connecticut). As well after an outstanding performance against Maryland where he registered 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, Smallwood was also named the Football Writers Association of America/Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, the Chuck Bednarik Defensive Player of the Week from the Maxwell Football Club and the ECAC Defensive Player of the Week. In the long run though, it will be Smallwood’s junior season which will define him in this year’s draft. In 2013, Smallwood was able to throw down 118 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. However, where Smallwood really impressed in 2013 was in his ability not only to rush the QB and stop the run, but also his ability to drop back into coverage and prevent the pass. As a junior, Smallwood defended 9 total passes as well as intercepting a pass and returning it 59 yards for a touchdown against Temple. In the end though, Smallwood ended up being named to the All-American Athletic Conference First Team, ECAC FBS All-Star Team and a Butkus Award Semifinalist.
Where Smallwood lines up so well as a top pick in this draft is in his athletic ability, but also his overall skills at the linebacker position. As evidenced throughout his career at UConn, Smallwood has the ability to rush the quarterback and make things happen in the backfield. As well, because he does have great vision and explosiveness, he can either stay back in coverage and attack the ball, or he can go up the middle and rush the passer. His nine passes defended are another indicator of how Smallwood is so different from other linebackers in this draft. Because he has the ability to tackle and defend the pass, he is incredibly valuable to those NFL teams who utilize the 3-4 defensive philosophy. Look for a team with defensive needs to pick up Smallwood in this draft to use him right away. The Packers had trouble last season defending both the pass and the run, thus Smallwood is the perfect fit for a team looking to get back into the playoff hunt in the NFC North.
Film Analysis vs. Michigan (brought by draftbreakdown.com)
Against one of the best teams in the country, UConn looked average offensively against a star-studded Michigan squad, however their awesome inside linebacker helped the Huskies have at least one bright spot against the Wolverines. As usual for the tackling machine, Smallwood was able to play great physical football against even the talented players of Michigan. Although Smallwood didn’t rush the QB as much as he would later on in the game, he was able to almost sack Michigan QB Devin Gardner, forcing him out of the pocket multiple times in the second quarter, rushing up the middle in order to give he and his teammates time to record the sack. As well on a first-and-10 play in the third quarter, Smallwood showed a glimpse of that quickness and power by finding a hole in the Michigan offensive line and quickly bringing down the Michigan back for a loss. As well on a second-and-10 play in the fourth quarter, Smallwood was able to pick up n the play action used by Gardner and then rush him and record a diving sack for a big loss. Other highlights from the game included a forced fumble and another tackle as the Huskies would end up losing to the Wolverines 24-21.
Why He Fits in with the Packers
This season the Packers had troubles protecting the pass and run as they ranked 24th and 25th in both categories, respectively. The Packers do have A.J. Hawk and Clay Mathews in their line backing corps, however their inside line backers could use another addition. Smallwood comes from humble beginnings and could give this Packers defense the jump start it needs to give this offense a chance at Super Bowl aspirations come next February.