Is Cam Smith the most overlooked cornerback in the 2023 NFL Draft?

The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class is historically loaded, featuring multiple high-end talents such as Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, and Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon. There is a chance we see five or six cornerbacks selected in the first round, with the majority of them getting their due in terms of hype. However, the most underrated of the bunch might be South Carolina’s Cam Smith. The redshirt junior does not quite have the ceiling of the three players listed above, but he is almost certain to be a starter at the NFL level.

What makes Cam Smith a starting NFL corner?

Smith tracks the ball like a receiver, understanding when to get his head around to look for the ball. Additionally, he has the hands and body control to make interceptions near the line of scrimmage.

Smith is able to read and react to what is happening in front of him. He plays with natural instincts, reading screens quickly and coming up field to make a play on them. When in zone coverage or off-man, he perfectly reads the route of the receiver and eyes of the quarterback. Not only are his eyes great during the route, but his route recognition is also extremely strong, as he quickly dissects what the receiver is running. These traits allow him to break off his pedal and come up to make a play at the catch point. His good playing speed is extremely prevalent when triggering up field, and it is borderline very good in short areas.

In off-man coverage, Smith is very patient; he understands his leverage and where his help is at. He does not get antsy, staying true to his technique. Smith stays light on his toes in these situations and maintains a good base width at all times. The South Carolina alum is more than comfortable in the slot and has the traits necessary to play it in the NFL, if needed.

In press-man, Smith’s feet are quiet off of the line, staying on the balls of his toes and he does not replace them quickly. Smith’s hips are fluid, which allows him to get in and out of his press without much problem. He does use his hands and body after two yards to try and dictate the direction of the route, which does help him stay sticky. In zone coverage, Smith looks more than comfortable.

He keeps his eyes on the quarterback at all times, no matter the depth at which he is playing. In zone, he was far better in cover-3 when taking a deep third. He stayed on the balls of his toes with a quick and patient pedal out of his stance.

Smith is a mentally tough corner who will play with his mouth guard out and is willing to travel anywhere with a team’s opposing number 1 receiver. He did this for South Carolina when they played Tennessee in 2022, as he traveled inside and outside with Jalin Hyatt.

Smith does a good job of making tackles in the open field and preventing receivers from picking up significant yards after the reception, often bringing them down right at the catch point. When he triggers up field, he is able to corral the receiver down even if they try to juke him immediately after the catch.

What are the limitations for cornerback Cam Smith?

There are many instances where Smith leans on the receiver too much and grabs at the stem, which results in a high rate of penalties. It should be noted that this is not a result of him being a panicky corner, rather it is just his play style. He does play rather passively with his hands in the first two yards of the route before he gets both of his hands on the receiver.

In both press and off-man coverage, he is a bit susceptible to double moves, which cause him to get turned around.

He was not often tasked with playing cloud or hook zones, but when he was, he did overflow to some spots and his feet crossed when moving from area to area.

Smith does not have fantastic closing speed. If a receiver is able to beat him vertically it is difficult for him to reduce the space between them.

South Carolina CB Cam Smith at the 2023 NFL Draft Combine

While his height is what teams are looking for, he came in on the light side. He showed off great speed, notching some of the most athletic numbers of the combine in the broad jump and vertical jump, as well as running the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.43 with great 10-yard and 20-yard splits. He had a Relative Athletic Score of 9.68 out of 10 based on his excellent combine.

Cam Smith highlights

What others are saying about South Carolina CB Cam Smith

“Smith has good speed and average top-end speed. He has some experience playing inside and outside for the Gamecocks. Physical downfield, the South Carolina native does a good job contesting at the catch point but can be too handsy downfield. He does a good job of tracking the ball through the air but only has average recovery speed. His ball production has been among the best in the nation.” — CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Josh Edwards

Cam Smith is the type of cornerback who can play in either a zone or man coverage scheme while also being able to play cornerback on the inside and outside. That versatility in its own right makes him an extremely valuable piece to a defense. He is best suited for a zone coverage scheme where he can read and react to what is happening in front of him using his good football intelligence.

Smith’s combination of very good ball skills, good field smarts, coverage technique, and transitions give him the ceiling of a near high-end starter. However, his lack of true closing speed and grabby nature give him the floor of a high-end backup who can play inside and outside.

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