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Za'Darius Smith Scouting Report

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Za'Darius Smith Scouting Report

This spring I enrolled in The Scouting Academy which is a great tool for anyone who wants to learn more about player evaluation or simply understand more about the game of football. If you want to be a future football scout, this is where you need to be. It helped me improve in areas I didn’t know I lacked and has made me a more objective viewer when it comes to watching NFL players. Luckily, one of the players we looked at was Packers newby Za’Darius Smith. I thought you guys might be interested in my evaluation but first here is the basis of what you will be looking at.

Critical Factors

There are five critical factors needed to effectively evaluate players. Thankfully, they are pretty self-explanatory.

  1. Mental Processing- Does the player understand the play happening in front of him and how quickly does he react? How well does he implement his plan to win his assignment?
  2. Competitive Toughness- How does the player react to adverse situations? Does his play regress when his team is on the road or after giving up a big play?
  3. Athletic Ability- Quickness, agility, balance, explosiveness, etc.
  4. Play Speed- How fast does he play? It’s not always about his forty time.
  5. Play Strength- Is he often out-matched physically or can he out-muscle all or just certain players?

Grading Scale

  1. Poor- Lacks the ability to compete vs any type of NFL competition regardless of effort or coaching.
  2. Marginal- Displays a minimal ability. Will lose most matchups vs players with better tools.
  3. Adequate- Below average ability. Wins with effort and can compete against adequate competition.
  4. Solid- Has average ability to compete against most NFL competition. Should win 50 to 60 percent of matchups against other solid players.
  5. Good- Above average and can compete against a majority of NFL competition. Should win most matchups against solid or below tools.
  6. Very good- Displays a rare ability. Can compete and win against the majority of NFL competition.
  7. Elite- Has a unique ability. Wins consistently and is a dominant player.

Defensive Line Curriculum

Each position has specific traits needed to be highlighted or at least mentioned in your scouting report. For defensive lineman we are looking at: upfield burst, pass rush, how he plays vs the run, use of hands, pursuit, and effectiveness running stunts/twists.

Basically, we look at everything. However, I don’t want to get too far into the weeds so here are the details from my report.

Za’Darius Smith Scouting Report

Injury History:

2015- No injuries

2016- No injuries

2017- Sprained left knee in week 1 (missed weeks two and three)

2018- Pulled hamstring in week 4 (did not miss any games), Sports hernia surgery after the season

Key Stats: Career-high 8.5 sacks, 45 tackles, and 25 QB hits in 2018. Led team in sacks and QB hits.

Best traits: Upfield Burst, Use of hands as a pass rusher, Pass Rush Technique, Mental Processing, and Play Speed.

Worst Traits: Use of hands vs run, Athletic Ability, Ability to Bend.

Projection/ Scheme Fit: A good starter that has good use of his hands as a pass rusher. Also has good technique, counters, consistent effort, and upfield burst to beat most solid offensive linemen. Has the frame and tools to be a good edge rusher in a 3-4 defense. Smith does have exposure to a wide variety of alignments ranging from a three to seven-technique defensive lineman. You can with this player when he is surrounded by other above average to good defensive linemen. Needs to a supporting cast as he is not dominant enough to carry the load himself.

Player Summary: 4th year DL who has been a situational pass rusher, starting 17 out 59 career games, including 9 out of 17 in 2018. Smith's teams have won 44 percent of the games he has appeared in over the couse of his career. He saw an increase in snaps each season which eventually led to a team-high 8.5 sacks last season and 25 QB hits last year. Played under Don Martindale who was his positional coach his first three years and then the defensive coordinator. Martindale featured Smith in nickel packages and 3-4 concepts. He slowly became a three-down player over the course of last season, lining up in a variety of alignments from a 3-tech DE to a 7-tech edge rusher.

Smith possesses good height and weight, hand length, and solid arm length with a high-cut frame (big upper body but slimmer lower body). He has solid athletic ability with good lateral quickness, explosiveness, and solid hip flexion.

When it comes to his play, Smith does a lot of things well. He has good upfield burst as a 3-tech and edge pass rusher to gain quick leverage against tackles and guards. His quick mental processing against man and zone blocking schemes allow him to diagnose quickly. Smith has a good pass rushing technique with proper hand usage. He uses a variety of pass rush moves such as a chop-club, rip, and club-swim. Sometimes he can counter good blocking by using lateral quickness such as a spin if the initial move fails. He shows good mental processing finding the ball, anticipating where it’s going, and uses good play speed in pursuit of the quarterback. Rarely does he fall for misdirection. Smith also sniffed out a few screen passes the ended with pass break-ups. Good explosiveness and lateral quickness to clear hands and hips of guards and is quick to engage vs OTs and TEs with heavy, violent hands that move actively throughout his rush. He demonstrates a good plan as a rusher by quickly processing zone blocking schemes and implementing his plan to shoot gaps, use counters, and good competitive toughness throughout the play to find the ball.


Smith is a solid edge player from 2, 3, and 4 point stance that has good core strength and solid play strength to keep his balance as a pass rusher and against the run. He shows a solid ability as the penetrator and looper in twists to free up rushers or push the pocket from the middle. He’s a solid run defender that can use hip flexibility and length to hold ground against trap blocks. Smith has good pursuit as a run defender with good play speed to chase down ball carriers from the backside of the play and uses good angles in pursuit. He is a solid finisher in the open field and shows a solid ability to wrap up against inside runs to his gap. In limited pass coverage snaps, Smith appeared comfortable dropping into space in short zones and takes solid angles to get to the flat.

Here are some things he struggles with.

Smith has adequate ability to contain on the edge and will allow running backs to bounce outside. His adequate ability to recover will allows backs to cut through his lane when he overcommits on his rush. Smith lacks functional play strength as an interior run defensive lineman to stack and shed guards that are able to get good initial hand placement. This prevents him from assisting with bringing down ball carriers running through his gap. His balance can be displaced against moving blockers and pulling tackles against zone runs as his use of hands loses punch to halt their momentum.

Overall, Smith is a good three-down pass rusher that wins with pass rush technique, a relentless motor, lateral quickness, competitive toughness, and good mental processing to recognize how to beat most blocks. He fits in as 4-3 defensive end, 3-tech on obvious passing downs, or as a 5-7 Tech in a 3-4 scheme because of his ability as a pass rusher, backside pursuit, and gap control as an interior run defender. He has all the tools to be a good pass rusher but his average athletic ability may limit his overall production.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. Please feel free to give me any feedback in the comments.




Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (41) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Freezn's picture

I think the Smiths will be very hard to block and you add Gary to the picture and Quarterbacks will be running for their lives. too many speed demon rushers at one time to block.

Lare's picture

Regardless what Smith does, it's going to be a huge improvement over what the Packers got from Perry & Matthews last season.

mamasboy's picture

You or I would be an improvement over Perry, Lare. Pettine is going to make Smith look like a star. This defense is going to be a thrill to watch.

Jerry Hansen's picture

Very expensive for what the upside can be.
A number 1con Gary is a reach. He is a younger Nick Perry with similar issues.
Both Smith's were in contract years.
8.5 sacks doesn't do it for me for his price tag. Could have signed Flowers for 1M more per year. Flowers is consistant in his career.
For what you spent on the 2 Smith's we could have landed 1 high quality productive player and another equality defender.
We got slightly above average and average.
Look at their numbers.

Coldworld's picture

You look at sacks, I look at pressures. That is exactly what we needed and to get it from more than one source without relying on blitzing out of the secondary as a primary source. I think, like Amos, these were the type of acquisition necessary to rebuild a foundation that had crumbled through age, injury and failure to replenish the pipeline with quality prospects.

jannes bjornson's picture

They will contain the edge, not overrun the play on a one-way rush to the QB like Matthews. The mobile QBs will be contained and Inside pressure will get to the pocket. ZA can go inside or out like Gary and Preston Smith has hook zone and cover ability. A much more fluid and dynamic attack.
I would hope Pettine uses more 4-3 fronts to attack this year.

dobber's picture

I like Preston Smith very much in the sense that he's durable and does just about everything--and does it pretty well. He didn't get the press that a Flowers or Z. Smith got, but he ranked pretty high in this FA class. He will do a lot to make this defense less matchup dependent. Likely my favorite of the 4 signings, but his greatest value doesn't show up on a stat sheet.

flackcatcher's picture

Numbers are worthless unless you examine their context. That's why political polls are junk for 10 months out of the year. Gary and the Smiths were drafted and signed to play in a defensive system that has been schemed for the new NFL pass rules. Bluntly, this team drafted and signed players who were either Hybrid/DL or DB who could play more than one position and cover and lengthen out plays and pressure or collapse the offense. In that context both Smiths are excellent signings, and Gary gives critical depth were the Packers had close to none due to injury and age. I don't give a damn about stats. Stats are for agents, and fantasy football types. In the real word it performance that counts. That's why the Smiths got their contracts, for the real world value they give the Packers.

jannes bjornson's picture

Key word: fantasy.

holmesmd's picture

You’re wrong dude. SMH

Jerry Hansen's picture

That's not hard to do.

ShanghaiKid's picture

If it’s not hard then why has it taken the better part of 5 years for the Packers to draft/sign quality pass rushing prospects?

Johnblood27's picture

TT sonambulatory state.

mic drop...

Jerry Hansen's picture

That's not hard to do.

ejr450's picture

Brandon, interesting read and new point of view. Thanks for sharing that. I’m excited to see what ZDS brings. We don’t need him to be a 10 (if is he is, all the better) but a 7+ every game would be fantastic. Same for PSmith, Amos, etc. Lots of building blocks around hopeful stars Clark & Alexander.

SmallmouthBass's picture

It sure has been on my mind since we drafted Rashan...

How and where will we use when all three (Preston & Z) are on the field at the same time? Will they all stay in a 2 point stance similar to Baltimore used their front 7? Is there a priority who's inside and outside on third down? I'm tempted to keep Gary outside with that unreal athleticism to chase down those pocket scramblers in the league regardless of questions on his bend. I need to see those three on the field the most personally. Thoughts?

Nick Perry's picture

I'm dying to know myself but I doubt we'll see much before week one what Pettine is REALLY planning.

My guess is Preston Smith will line up as an OLB pretty close to 100% of the time.

"Z" will be lined up both inside and outside on passing downs depending on what is happening with Clark and/or Daniels.

I think eventually Gary will be used much like ZaDarius Smith is used, BUT being moved around will take a little time. I think he'll start learning the OLB position and move around on the D-Line once he progresses a bit.

Like you stoked to watch a combination of Gary, Daniels, Clark, ZaDarius and Preston Smith on the field at once. Bring all 5 in one of Pettines crazy blitz schemes, or really keep the offense guessing who's coming, who's dropping when all 5 are on the field.

ENDLESS possibilities.

Jerry Hansen's picture

Gary will be in the tub or wearing a sling!

Coldworld's picture

And you will be under the arches waiting for the Billygoats Gruff.

dobber's picture

Look out for that third one...he's a tough old one.

jannes bjornson's picture

Ask Dom, He called it nascar.

dblbogey's picture

Always enjoy Brandon's stuff and appreciate his effort on this fine report. I'm so excited that we may have an actual defense this year. I'm always optimistic, but it sure looks like we've upgraded the defensive talent, and love that Capers isn't here anymore, though in his defense he didn't often have much talent to work with.

Brandon Carwile's picture

Thank you. A lot to be excited about on this year’s defense.

Spock's picture

Brandon, I'm impressed that you spent the effort and time to upgrade your own skills in player evaluation by training for how the actual NFL scouts evaluate position players. Your gain is our gain here at CHTV. This year the off season articles have been far more interesting than usual and very informative. Love this kind of stuff from you, Andy, Zach, and other CHTV contributors. This is why, IMHO, this site is the best Packers fan site to visit bar none. Keep 'em coming. :)

Handsback's picture

Brandon, good job on the write-up. I've been lucky to know these old scouts that have suggested traits to look for...nothing formal like you have presented.
Getting back to Zman. Last year the one thing that stood out to me in any Ravens game was Smith. It was like a one man wrecking machine screwing up the offense at every turn.
I'm happy he's wearing the green and gold. Let's see him wreck the Bears and Vikings.

Brandon Carwile's picture

Thank you

Doug Niemczynski's picture

I don't know how R. Gary but Z. Smith is a BEAST!!

Holecrap's picture

This D is vastly improved over the past several years. For me the tell will be can they get off the field. It will take total effort to stop the opposition from long scoring drives. If they can do that, they have a chance.

Jerry Hansen's picture

How do you know that?
Optimism? It sounds great but, does not convert to winning on the field neccessarily.

Jerry Hansen's picture

How do you know that?
Optimism? It sounds great but, does not convert to winning on the field neccessarily.

Jerry Hansen's picture

How do you know that?
Optimism? It sounds great but, does not convert to winning on the field neccessarily.

Nick Perry's picture

Why don't you learn how to post a comment. It's hard to consider an opinion of someone who struggles with the comment section at CHTV.

Guy's picture

I don't see how you can call that pursuit speed "average athleticism" He looks exceptional to me. Thanks for the analysis!

Nick Perry's picture

ZaDarius Smith was probably the FA OLB I wanted the Packers to pursue the most. Now I didn't believe it would take what it took to sign him, but I thought he'd be a hell of an addition to the OLB/DL because of his versatility.

The thing I like most about "Z" is he's gotten better, and better, and better with each passing season. I think in THIS system, with all the additional talent the Packers have around him, (There IS talent) Pettine will go "Mad Scientist" to cut him loose. But then again with all the talent the front 7 suddenly has, Pettine can go "Mad Scientist" with several different players. I just think ZaDarious is the key.

dobber's picture

"Pettine will go "Mad Scientist" to cut him loose. But then again with all the talent the front 7 suddenly has, Pettine can go "Mad Scientist" with several different players."

I think you're right in that there are several players who can pressure the QB here. I wouldn't be surprised if neither of the Smiths gets to double-digit sacks...but that doesn't mean that others aren't better or more effective because they're there.

Coldworld's picture

I don’t think that’s even the benchmark. Collapse, disrupt and sacks will come from somewhere, but more importantly so will 3 and outs and turnovers. So often teams could get into a rhythm against us. This is designed to prevent that without selling not on coverage.

IceBowl's picture


You say...... "Pettine can go "Mad Scientist"......."

I get your idea (I think) but I believe it will be more of a calculated attack. Exploit the cracks kind of thing and minimize holes. Of course blitzes, but called rationally. Because he can come from anywhere, but base it on match-ups, field position, surprise, and downs.

jannes bjornson's picture

I can see three to four guys with Dbl digit sacks if Pettine opens it up full throttle. Just menace the opposition.

dobber's picture

I think that if things go really well, we might see one guy with double-digits and a handful in the 6-8 range. That seems to historically fit with Pettine defenses. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the double-digit guy isn't a Smith, either.

PatrickGB's picture

I think that the smiths and gary fit the scheme better than did the players we released. Pettine has a different defense than capers and is much less predictable. It’s funny because Capers was once considered cutting edge yet became predictable and did not have the right players to fit his system. Pettine now has the players who fit what he wants to do, even better than last years improvement. I disliked having to spend all the high draft picks on defense these last couple of years but with a new GM, coaches and FA the team has improved. At least it appears so.

jannes bjornson's picture

It all goes to Bud Carson and Hank Bullough ( the Doctor of defense), then Dom and Dick LeBeau started the linebacker crash test dummies attack.
A lot of variations with Mora and Dick Nolan. Keep evolving the scheme and get him the players.

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