Two years have passed and I think it's safe for us to air our collective judgments about the successes and failures from the 2015 Redskins draft class. As many recall this was a highly anticipated draft as it was the first of Scot McCloughan's short tenure in Washington. The pre-draft excitement was at a high not just because of the players in the class but because for the first time in many years a well-known, well-respected, and proven talent evaluator was helping lead the team in what was the beginning of a rebuild for the team. McCloughan outlined a plan for the team and for the type of player and talent he wanted to fill the team with. By now we all know the what he was looking for. A football player. Size, talent, toughness, someone with innate instincts for their position and understands its not about the individual but about the sum of its parts.
Pick #2 (38th overall) Preston Smith
The selection of Smith was a head scratcher for some. The team had drafted Trent Murphy to be the heir apparent at the OLB position when Brian Orakpo departed after the 2014 season. Despite Murphy filling in as a rookie for an injured Orakpo, the Skins thought the OLB could be further upgraded with the addition of Smith. In my opinion, in a defense that drafts hybrid defensive ends as outside linebackers, Murphy was always better suited for the DE role than he was standing up. Physically, Smith is a clear upgrade. He is faster, has a bit more twitch and explosiveness, as well as tested stronger than Murphy at the combine.
In 2015 Murphy and Smith split time at the position with Murphy starting almost every game. That season Smith was clearly the better performer. During his best games, you could see why the front office drafted him. His power, length, and closing speed showed up on tape and he seemed to be more effective at getting off blocks than Murphy was. Smith had a great rookie season and racked up 8 sacks, 3FF, and 30 total tackles.
This past season we were all excited to see Preston build on his incredible rookie season however, he regressed. Preston still tallied 5 sacks and 39 total tackles but based on the collective eye tests of most fans he was not nearly as effective as he was the year prior. There are two theories for his sophomore slump:
- Joe Barry and his madness.
Preston Smith is, and always should be, a rush 34 OLB/DE (and the same goes for Murphy) all too often Barry would have Smith covering a back out of the backfield, a TE on the strong side, and even a slot receiver. I completely understand the responsibilities of the 34 OLB and that coverage is just part of the job but if that is the case I can’t wrap my head around why: 1a. The team didn't change the type of OLB they drafted for that position to reflect that skill and 1b. Why the defensive scheme constantly exploited the weaknesses of their players at this position.
2. Preston Smith’s own preparedness and effort to improve.
I don’t think Smith is a lazy player or that he has the gall to show up for the season completely unprepared and uninterested in improving. What I do think is that he rested on his laurels a bit and thought he would get similar results to his rookie year without the necessary work to tread water in regard to his production much less improve upon those numbers.
The short of it is that Preston Smith has a lot to prove this season to convince and reassure the coaches and the fan base that he can be a starting quality OLB. He absolutely has the tools to be a playmaker if he is put in the right situations and he takes the time to improve his game in all aspects. It is ridiculous to give up on him at this stage IMO but this season will tell us a lot about him and his trajectory as a player. In my opinion, Smith is the hardest player to grade of this draft class because of the up of his first season and the down of his second.
Now for the fun part! 20/20 hindsight and speculation!
A few interesting players were taken immediately or soon after Smith and they include:
All of these players represented good values at their positions and all of them have been able to improve clearly from their rookie to sophomore seasons or would have if it weren't for their injuries.
Would you have wanted any of these guys over Preston? Say in the comments!
How would you grade the Preston Smith pick today?
This poll is closed
A (Excellent, home run quality)
B (Good, but could have had a better player)
C (Average, lots of better players on the board)
D (Below Average, player was a reach or not a scheme fit)
F (Terrible, might as well have forfeited it)