Preston Smith will most likely be the starter at ROLB for the first four games of the 2017 NFL season due to the suspension of Trent Murphy. The question is, can he hold down the spot permanently once Murphy returns?
Smith, a 2015 second round draft pick, has the size, length and athletic traits that could make him a successful starting outside linebacker in the Redskins 3-4 defense, while also lining up with his hand in the dirt as a 7-technique in an even front. The question for Smith is more about consistency and allowing himself to take on positive coaching.
At 6'5" 271 lbs, Smith ran a 4.74 40 yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. He recorded a 34 inch vertical jump, a 7.07 3-cone drill, and 24 reps at 225 pounds. These are excellent numbers for an athlete his size, and certainly show some explosion and quick-twitch ability.
It has been reported that Smith has lost some weight over the winter and looks really good:
Idk say 260/265. Looking more and more like a young Aldon https://t.co/1W7jZL82nR— Emmanual Benton (@manny_benton) April 29, 2017
As a rookie, Smith came along slowly, but really began to put things together over the second half of the season, recording 5 sacks over his last three games. On the season he had 35 combined tackles, 8 sacks and 4 passes defended. Smith came into 2016 with high hopes, but saw a decline in production as he suffered through a sophomore slump. He tallied 38 combined tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3 passes defended and one interception.
2017 could be a make-or-break year for the third year pro, as coaches will look for him to take a giant step up in production. The team just drafted OLB Ryan Anderson in the second round, and he has the versatility to play either linebacker spot. Junior Galette also looks to return from his second torn Achilles, and although he remains a huge question mark, his ability as a pass rusher is well documented. And then there is Trent Murphy who had a career year in 2016, recording 47 combined tackles, 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass defended.
If Smith can play well over the first four games of the 2017 season, it may make the decision to replace him with Murphy once his suspension is up, a tough one. If Smith looks mundane, Murphy should assume that role once he returns. There is also the chance a veteran like Galette or rookie Ryan Anderson impress in training camp, stealing some of Smith's reps.
So, can Preston Smith finally put it all together, take advantage of the opportunity that is in front of him with the Murphy suspension, and win the starting ROLB position?