In the environment of the college transfer portal, Abram Smith has been an example of patience. Having been essentially buried on Baylor's roster behind Jamycal Hasty and John Lovett (not exactly household names), Smith finally got his opportunity after spending a season as a linebacker. Baylor, in turn, provided a very complimentary Wide Zone run scheme that maximized his capabilities.
The curious case of Abram Smith's situation makes the case for both extremes of the "landing spot" that concerns so many draft enthusiasts. On one hand, we see how talent can be buried behind perceived superior talent, to no fault of the player in question. On the other hand, we see what happens when you get the right player in the right scheme. For a player to go from 13 touches in 3 years to exploding for 1676 scrimmage yards on 270 touches in a single year should get us thinking. We really need to evaluate our processes constantly. If professionals are overlooking a talent like this, who are we to assume our own processes lack flaws.
Before we dive into the diagram above, there are a few data points not on the graphic that may be of interest. First, Abram Smith faced the T-10th easiest schedule per Opponent RBV ASR at 65.7%. Second, Smith benefitted from good line play. The offensive line unit was credited with only 11 blown blocks on plays where Smith carried the ball. Unfortunately, Smith was only able to be successful on 9.1% of plays where a blown block occurred.
The graphic indicates that we should witness some type of speed on tape along with high-speed mental processing in Zone schemes. With 10 Gap runs charted, we can have some confidence in what the score is telling us. He will be a beneficiary of a heavy Zone scheme landing spot in the NFL.
Vision and Burst
Before we get into his vision and burst, there is some additional context from my tape observations. Baylor ran a ton of Wide Zone concepts from tight formations. This is critical because the effectiveness of receiver and tight end blocking matters a lot more. Additionally, this creates a lot of opportunities. With more defenders concerned about the Wide Zone there is a tendency to bring more bodies near the line of scrimmage. Hitting a crack in the defense can result in chunk runs. This situation, in combination with Baylor's consistent success, may incite additional aggression to get the edge. Often, this results in nice cutback lanes if the defense flows.
With that out of the way, we can jump into the meat. Wide Zone affords runners time to assess the trenches as they approach the edge. Abram Smith consistently reads the leverage and manipulates the linebackers with subtle head and shoulder movement. Part of his success and consistency is his ability to patiently control his pace while allowing blocks to develop. He seems to play with a level of anticipation regarding blocks along his track. He is excellent at identifying cutback lanes when the defense is overaggressive. Abram Smith frequently maximizes space when attacking the gaps with a willingness to trade paint with offensive linemen. There appears to be an intangible intelligence about his approach to the trenches. One has to wonder how much of that year as a linebacker expanded his vision as a runner.
Smith has good burst to get to the second level and is able to get North/South with a 1-2 step cut. I would argue that he has very good play speed given how he runs through the smoke with anticipation. I will be curious about his 10-yard split metric during the combine.
While his change of direction is solid at best, his ability to anticipate and the obtuse cut angles that Wide Zone demands make the lack of shiftiness less of an issue. Smith does appear to have that curvilinear acceleration around the edge that allows him to erase linebacker angles. Smith reaches his top speed quickly regardless of whether he bounces, bangs, or bends the play. Smith's burst and vision were compatible with Inside Zone runs such as Tight and Belly Zone which were commonly utilized as a wrinkle in Baylor's offense.
First of all, I was taken completely off guard when I learned about Smith's measurements. He certainly plays much bigger than 5' 11', 221 pounds. Part of this is Smith's tendency to run a little tall when he accelerates. Smith is able to channel his momentum into good play strength. He should have no problem running through arm tackles and bouncing off of shoulder tackles. Has excellent contact balance above the thighs, but there was no evidence of recovery ability from shoe-string tackles. Smith has good homerun speed and his burst gets him to his top speed quickly. This burst gives him a nice initial cushion on pursuing defenders. We should be able to see these finishing qualities frequently at the next level.
While Smith's exposure to the passing game was scarce, he did show solid active hands when catching the ball. There were even some flashes of sideline awareness and good mental processing if the quarterback was in trouble. When he catches the ball on the run, he can explode up the field quickly and channel that burst.
The biggest concern I have is his lack of suddenness or elusiveness. His ability to change direction where more acute angles are required is virtually non-existent. This explains his lack of ability to create in those blown block situations. His tendency to run high is scary as well since he will be subjected to more violent/powerful hits at the next level.
As a pass-catcher, his exposure was limited to flat and arrow routes with the occasional screen pass. The lack of diversity and usage in the passing game is a necessary growth area for Smith to see third-down work. Another factor capping his prognosis is the lack of blocking reps in critical and obvious passing down situations. There is simply too small a sample size and this area is too important to a team to elude concern. There is nothing saying he cannot improve in these areas, but we will have to wait until after the draft to find out.
Abram Smith is a running back that Wide Zone NFL Teams can win with. Smith has the patience, vision, and play speed to maximize a Wide Zone scheme. His burst through the smoke will be an asset to teams that can provide him the slightest crack in the trenches. His linebacker experience seems to have provided perspective in the run game that permits him to run with more intelligence and intent. He finishes bigger than his measurements may indicate when his pad level is right and will maintain his speed at the second level throughout obtuse angle cuts. He brings good homerun speed as an asset. Abram Smith will be serviceable in the short passing game out of the backfield with solid hands, good burst upfield after the catch, and flashes of good body control along the sideline.
His upside will be capped by an adequate change of direction on hard cuts and his play strength in finishing will be compromised by a tendency to run under, instead of behind, his pads. His usefulness in the passing game is uncertain despite his explosive burst ability due to a lack of backfield route diversity and non-backfield alignments. While the evidence of play strength is present, it is unclear if Smith will be a pass-protection asset due to limited sample size of blocking snaps in obvious passing situations.