Few Buccaneers players have as much to prove next season as Donovan Smith does. The soon-to-be third year tackle has had some high points through two seasons but remains a work in progress. We’ll detail here in this off-season homework assignment all of the things that Smith has to improve on.
Recent history has not been kind to the Buccaneer blind side. Starting with a bad decision to not re-sign Donald Penn, the Buccaneers began down a bumpy road to try and sure up the left side of their offensive line. In a cruel, ironic twist of football fate, many of the questionable takes that ran Penn out of town – weight and inconsistency laments to name a few – have manifested themselves in the players that have replaced him.
First there was Anthony Collins, the big free agent disaster from Cincinnati who flamed out after just one season in Tampa and hasn’t had a gig since. Then came Donovan Smith.
The Buccaneers selection of Donovan Smith in the second round was met with skepticism in many draft circles. It was clear that Smith was being picked to play left tackle for the Bucs, but many had tabbed Smith as a future right tackle because of his massive frame and the projection that he’d struggle with the speed and finesse of elite rushers at the NFL level. Through two seasons, that draft day skepticism seems to have been warranted.
Smith has predictably struggled to make up for his slow, plodding feet. His slow transition into his pass blocking stance often times leaves him grasping for air and grass as quicker pass rushers blow by him for an easy sack. The Chicago, Arizona, and Dallas games provided countless examples of this, and that’s only naming a few. When Smith is able to utilize his brute strength he can win snaps (more on that in a second), but his technique and feet don’t really let him do that often enough. The bulk of Smith’s off-season homework is tied to this issue.
Nov 3, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Donovan Smith (76) blocks Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn (99) during the first quarter of a football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Though Pro Football Focus is far from perfect, their grading metrics measure up with what our eyes tell us about Donovan Smith’s strengths and weaknesses. On the 2016 season, Smith graded out as the 69th ranked tackle in football, 25 points higher as a run blocker than he did as a pass blocker (63.9 compared to 38.7). Again, the numbers are perhaps a bit inflated or deflated and open to interpretation, but there’s no doubt that Smith has work to do, specifically in his duties as protector of the Franchise.
Simply put, Donovan Smith must improve his consistency as a pass blocker before next August. That’s his project for the spring semester; lose weight, find consistency in his technique play to play, and improve his competitive toughness. The Bucs will surely give the soon-to-be third year tackle another season to show what he can do, but as I’ve written before about Smith, a position change can’t be ruled out at some point. More than likely, year three for Smith is the final exam of his senior year in college and a passing grade determines his graduation status.
To Donovan’s credit, he did not miss a snap in the 2016 season, and in my opinion his ability to block in the run game is better than PFF suggests. Smith is very strong and can stonewall defenders in space when his technique is sound. If he’s able to progress in year three and clean things up in pass protection the Bucs will have a solid, if not quality left tackle in their hands and an interesting contract decision to make.