TOM SMITH, RB, 5’11, 202, Apopka(HS)FL
When Tennessee was one of the nation’s premier programs they were known more for their talented college quarterbacks and running backs; but it was their rushing attack that really made the Volunteer machine go. Rushers like Charlie Garner, James Stewart, Jay Graham, Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry, and Travis Stephens were the engines that drove the Tennessee machine of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. It is imperative that Tennessee get back to that style of play and find themselves some rushers than can have the kind of success expected of a Tennessee running back. Recent commit Tom Smith reminds me of some of those rushers. He is not the most explosive player or the most gifted athlete, but he is a hard-nosed rusher who plays the game with power and authority, evidenced by his 1651 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior. Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, two programs who know a thing or two about identifying and churning out productive running backs, have offered Smith, as has Colorado, Utah, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Memphis, Tulane, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International.
The 5’11, 202 pound Apopka standout has an excellent frame, as he is built low, built thick, and has long arms. Smith has the strength to match his frame. He is a strong runner, runs with authority, and plays the game with a lot of power. Smith shows a good leg drive. When contact comes he does a fine job driving his legs through that contact, he also does a very good job driving his legs hard when he attacks between the tackles. This makes him very hard to bring down with anything other than a solid, head on tackle. You will not see Smith going down from many tackles from the side or arm tackles. Between the tackles is where Smith will make his living at the next level with his one-cut style and his power. With his good upper body strength and long arms I would expect Smith to be more effective using his stiff arm. This is a trait he should really work to develop, as it could become a big weapon for him as a college running back. His strength and long arms should also allow him to develop into a fine blocker at the next level as well. He has the strength, body, and plays with the kind of effort that leads me to believe blocking will in fact develop into one of his prime strengths as a running back.
If I had to pick one word to describe the kind of athlete Smith is I would say “strong.” Smith is not super quick, super explosive, or shifty. He is, however, a strong athlete who gets downhill hard, and his athletic skills are what dictate that style. The Apopka standout has adequate speed, but will not blow anyone away with his breakaway juice. Smith does, however, play faster than his listed 4.82 forty time. He is not a “home run” threat, but he does possess a nice second gear and the ability to make a big run if he finds a crease. I do not see his speed as being something that should hold him back from being a productive college back, although it will likely keep him from gaining the recognition from scouting services as his production would otherwise dictate. Smith shows solid agility and fluidity with his “one-cut” style and attacks the hole with authority. When he cuts back to the inside he has a tendency to lose speed, he gets off balance a bit, and at times struggles to regain his speed. He also has a tendency to get knocked off balance a bit too easily, although his excellent strength allows him to stay up after contact and continue to churn out yards. Smith also does a nice job of regaining his balance and getting downfield.
It is apparent Smith has very good vision both behind the line of scrimmage and in the open field. He reads well, anticipates openings, and quickly bursts through the line. This allows him to maximize the speed he does have. It also allows him to make defenders miss at the line of scrimmage. Smith does not possess the kind of shiftiness to allow him to consistently juke defenders in the open field. He does, however, understand quite well how to use angles to properly attack defenders to set them up for a cut back. Smith does a great job setting up blocks, which gives his lineman a chance to make blocks on the perimeter and gives him the opportunity to pitch up extra yards. The vision mentioned above also allows him to pull this off and is what allows him to make people miss in the open field. Players who play with the kind of power and authority Smith does have a tendency to lack patience; this is not the case with Tom Smith. Smith does a great job letting the blocking develop and as soon as he sees the hole he attacks it, getting to and through the second level. Smith also shows good lateral quickness when he attacks the perimeter, again using his patience and vision to find cutback lanes for big plays.
From what I can tell on his film Smith appears to be a very well coached young man, which is a credit to his high school coaches. He plays the game with efficient footwork and does a fine job keeping his feet underneath him at all times. Smith also runs with a good pad level in the box, which allows him to use his power and strength to his advantage. He shows good footwork at the snap and does a great job staying on track in the run game. This allows him to utilize consistently hit holes with great timing, again allowing him to maximize his speed and explosiveness. The Apopka rusher also uses his long arms to tightly tuck the football, keeping the ball safe. There will be an adjustment period for Smith as he goes to the next level. The offense he runs now is sort of a single-wing hybrid. He is close to the line of scrimmage on almost every snap, and the angles he takes now will be different from the I and the shotgun. It is something many high school backs face, so it is not something that will keep him from developing, but it is worth noting that he will need some time for the adjustment to take place.
Smith shows good hands in the pass game, where he is thrown several screens. He tends to be a bit stiff in his hips when he catches the football and turns to get squared to the line of scrimmage. Smith has enough athleticism to present some matchup problems for bigger linebackers at the next level, but he will need to develop better route running ability to beat faster SEC defenders. If he develops in the pass offense he will be a weapon, as his strength, vision, and strong hands lend to him developing into an effective “after-the-catch” runner. As mentioned above Smith’s strength, body, and effort lead me to believe he will become a very good pass blocker at the next level.
Players who lack elite speed tend to be overlooked by recruiting services. But players with his size, strength, and power tend to be far more productive than the “talent evaluators” often expect. Smith has all the running back skills to be a very productive back at the next level. He has very good vision, patience, runs with excellent pad level, runs with authority, and he has enough speed and agility to excel at the next level. I have seen backs in the SEC with less speed and agility than Smith churn out 1000 yards. Smith has the potential to become a solid all-around football player who can run with the football, make plays in the pass game, and effectively block in both phases as well. This is a big pickup for Tennessee, who need to restock the depth chart at the running back position in the future.
Size: 83 (Perfect height, build, thick-athletic frame)
Strength/Power: 85 (Plays with a lot of power, runs with authority, hard to bring down)
Speed: 74 (Lacks great top end speed, decent second gear, maximizes what speed he has)
Athletic Skills: 78 (Solid all-around athlete, not great in any area, a bit stiff in his hips)
Vision: 85 (Very good vision, sees and reads quite well)
Technique: 88 (Obviously well coached, understands angles, stays on track)
Pass Catching: 73 (Good hands, could be a solid screen threat)
Intangibles: 84 (High motor player, physical, solid all-around talent)
Overall Grade: 3.5
90-100 – Elite/Exceptional: Skill set is rare and gives prospect ability to dominate
80-89 – Very Good/Outstanding: Skill set is a significant strength
70-79 – Average: Skill set is solid, not a significant weakness
60-69 – Below Average: Skill set is not a strength for this player and could become a liability
50-59 – Very Poor: Prospect does not possess this trait and it is a definite liability
5 – Elite: Player is one of the best players at his position nationally, potentially dominant
4 – Very Good/Outstanding: Player is a potential standout and starter, could also play early
3 – Solid: Player is a potential contributor, could eventually start down the road
2 – Below Average: Player does not possess the talent to be a significant contributor
1 – Poor: Let’s be honest, Tennessee is not going to bring in anyone with a one!!