Birthday: July 21, 1980
Strengths: Clifton Smith is a run-stuffing middle linebacker who will anchor the Syracuse defense in 2002. He can fight his way through traffic, find the ballcarrier, and deliver a ferocious hit when he gets there. A big-game player, Smith has consistently risen up for contests with Syracuse’s key Big East opponents: he averages about 13 tackles per game in three games each against Miami and Virginia Tech, never failing to record at least ten stops in a game against one of these opponents.
After the 2001 season, Smith’s toughness is unquestionable. He tore his left pectoral muscle in Syracuse’s opening game, rendering his left arm almost useless for the entire season. Smith played through the pain and racked up 92 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, and two blocked kicks with basically with one arm, capping the year with a dominating performance in Syracuse’s bowl win against Kansas State (12 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble).
Areas for Concern: Smith expects a full recovery from offseason surgery to repair his torn chest muscle, but was held out of contact in the spring. He must continue to work hard to regain his lost strength; as of the summer, he could only do six bench press reps of 225 lbs., while before the injury he could pump out 15. Smith managed quite well with the injury in 2001, but he will need to rebuild his upper body strength in order to succeed as an inside linebacker against bigger and stronger NFL linemen and power runners over the course of a 16-game season.
While very effective between the offensive tackles near the line of scrimmage, Smith has limited range and is not a sideline-to-sideline defender. When he gets to the NFL, he will probably contribute mainly on first and second downs and on short-yardage plays, and come out in passing situations.
How Would He Look in Steel Blue? Assuming he regains his strength, a big, physical hitter like Smith at the Buc (left inside) linebacker position could be a nice complement to Jamie Sharper. He could be the stay-at-home or traffic cop type who takes cleans up in the middle of the defense, while Sharper flies around and disrupts the opposing offense. Smith’s lack of great range would not be a major liability in that role, and the Texans could replace him with a nickel back on passing downs. The Texans should have the inside scoop on Smith, as assistant DBs coach Brian Stewart served on Syracuse’s defensive staff last season.
(profile written by Warren DeLuca)
Clifton Smith’s 2001 Stats G TCK TFL SKS FF FR INT 12 92 11 3 0 0 0 Clifton Smith Return to The War Room
Click on a player’s name to preview other top LB prospects: