NFL Combine 2019 Preview: USC MLB Cameron Smith must show his strength

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC MLB Cameron Smith was a pillar of the Trojan defense for four years and hopes to prove that he can be the cornerstone for an NFL defense as well.

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After being one of the most consistent and productive players for USC over the past four years, middle linebacker Cameron Smith now faces a new challenge to prove that he is capable of being an every-down linebacker at the NFL level.

Smith is making the jump to the NFL a year later than many expected, but as he explained to the Sac Bee this past offseason, “I felt like I had more to prove, that I could get better, and that I wanted to help this program win more games. And it’s fun here.”

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While the team did not necessarily have success in 2018, Smith was a captain and a leader and left his mark as a great Trojan.

USC resume

The four-star recruit out of Granite Bay, California made an immediate impact for the Trojans, earning a starting spot at middle linebacker prior to his freshman season. Smith essentially never relinquished that role, starting 44 of 47 games during his career. He tallied 354 tackles, with 26.5 for a loss and three interceptions while being the signal caller for the USC defense.

Smith’s most memorable game as a Trojan came during his freshman year when he intercepted Utah quarterback Travis Wilson three times, including a 54-yard pick six en route to dominant victory over the third-ranked Utes.

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Unfortunately, his freshman campaign was cut short in by a torn ACL against Colorado. However, he was still named a Freshman All-American by USA Today, ESPN, and others while also earning Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year.

Smith went on to be the Trojans’ leading tackler each of the next three seasons (and was leading the team in tackles when he was injured as a freshman) and was named All-Pac-12 1st team his junior year and All-Pac-12 2nd team his senior year.

Scouting report and draft stock

Despite performing very well in four consecutive years of college football, there are still questions regarding Smith’s fit in the NFL game.

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Smith is a run-stopping, downhill linebacker that has a penchant for navigating traffic in the middle of the field and is an excellent open-field tackler. He does a nice job in zone coverage and displays better than expected speed in all phases of the game.

Yet, he often struggled to get off blocks and could be physically dominated by offensive linemen when forced into one on one matchups.

Smith’s steady play and sure-tackling makes him an attractive asset to NFL teams but after flashing some dynamic ability his freshman year, he never quite jumped off the screen as a player that could wreak havoc upon an opposing offense. As a result, he is currently considered a mid-round option.

Combine expectations

There are several areas that are intriguing for evaluators of Smith for the 2019 NFL Combine, but the most important will likely be his medical report.

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While remaining relatively healthy for the majority of his career after the ACL injury, Smith struggled with hamstring issues in 2018 and had to have his surgically repaired knee drained prior to USC’s contest with ASU last season.

In addition to the medical reports, the bench press will be an interesting event for Smith. While the bench does not necessarily translate to “football strength,” it can turn into a detractor if an individual performs below his position average.

On a positive note, Smith has solid tape and could improve his stock with good showings in the 40-yard dash and agility drills because he should be faster and quicker than expected.

Additionally, he needs to impress scouts and executives on the whiteboard and in interviews due to his extensive playing time at USC and the importance of being a cerebral player at the middle linebacker position.