Many have speculated as to what the Dallas Cowboys will do to replace defensive captain Sean Lee, who was recently lost for the season after tearing his ACL. There is some considerable talent still available on the free agent market, namely Jonathan Vilma and Pat Angerer. Some have even speculated that Rod Marinelli could lure former Bear Brian Urlacher out of retirement. For now, however, it appears the team will look in-house for a new MLB.
The most talked about candidate for the job is 4th-round pick Anthony Hitchens, who played OLB at Iowa. Also in the mix are LB Devonte Holloman, who flashed great potential in limited action last season, and practice squad stand-out, two-year vet Orie Lemon. Perhaps the most suitable player for the MLB spot, though, is being widely overlooked: rookie 7th-round pick Will Smith out of Texas Tech.
First, it should be noted that of the four Cowboys mentioned, only Smith and Lemon played MLB in college. Now, let’s talk measurables. Smith is the tallest of the bunch at 6’2 (same height as Sean Lee) and may be the fastest (4.64 40-yard time is better than any of the other guys, though the speed of Lemon and Holloman has likely changed since being in the league). Smith is also visibly the most lean, possessing more of an athletic frame than the other players who appear better built for contact.
What jumps off the most on tape of Will Smith is his ability to change direction. This, coupled with very mature awareness, means a player who could charge the line but wrap up the halfback in case of a draw play. This is what made Holloman, who played the Spur position at South Carolina (LB/DB hybrid), such an effective tackler last year. Smith, who ranked fourth in the NCAA with 86 solo tackles in 2014, is also an effective tackler.
The awareness Smith shows may also translate well to defending the pass. He clearly has the ability to do it, as he collected several interceptions in his years before transferring to Texas Tech, and did break up a number of passes while a Red Raider, He probably needs to work with some veterans at reading next-level QBs. Still, the potential is there.
It is likely that many people are writing off Will Smith because he is a seventh-round pick, especially since Anthony Hitchens was taken much higher than him. Remember, though, that Smith was actually ranked higher than Hitchens leading up to the draft and is a true MLB. The Cowboys may have other players graded ahead of him in terms of sheer talent, but the MLB position deserves a unique sort of finesse. Thus, if given the chance to prove his abilities at this level, Will Smith may just win the job.