The highest-rated and arguably most anticipated commit of the June 22 weekend was 4-star defensive tackle Mazi Smith. Michigan had been the leader for a while, and it was just a matter of time before the fourth-highest in-state player made his announcement.
Smith is 6-foot-3, 290 pounds and moves very well for someone that size. He is probably a 3-tech right now, with the potential to develop into a nose tackle if he puts on more weight and gains more strength and develops better technique.
He is ranked as the 122nd best player in the country and fourth best defensive tackle by the 247 composite.
He joins a loaded defensive line class, but is the only pure interior lineman committed so far. Chris Hinton is listed as a strong-side defensive end, but has the size to slide inside in college.
Let’s breakdown Smith’s film and see what he’s bringing to the defensive line for Michigan.
Check out his junior highlights below:
For someone so large, Smith moves very quick. His first step often leaves offensive linemen grasping for air.
Multiple times, Smith gets past the lineman across from him before a pulling guard can even get down the line of scrimmage. This gives Smith a wide open shot at the running back, who he usually pulverizes. Watch this in action below.
It’s hard to see, but the guard to Smith’s left looks like he tries to cut block. This happens a lot to Smith, and it seems that he has learned how to maneuver around them swiftly and with good balance.
He steps around the diving guard and is in the backfield before the guard on the opposite side reaches the hole he is supposed to be pulling towards. The pulling guard can only watch helplessly as Smith wraps up the running back, at whom he has a clear shot.
This next play shows off his speed even more, as he beats multiple pulling linemen and chases down the running back in space. The play doesn’t start until right before the snap and doesn’t highlight Smith until after he’s past the line, so look for the left defensive tackle in the A-gap between the center and right guard.
This play is similar to the one above, in that Smith has to fight past a chop block, which he does adeptly. Like I mentioned above, he does this even before the pulling guard or tackle can get down the line.
Once Smith is in the backfield, he hunts down the running back and flattens him for a four-yard loss. This play is a great example of his speed and balance, being able to chase down the ball carrier and tackle him in space, which is impressive at his size.
His quickness is also evident in his first step, which is explosive.
Smith is the right defensive tackle in the play above, lined up on the inside shoulder of the left guard, from what I can see. Off the snap, Smith blows back the guard by using his quick burst and translating it into power. He actually penetrates too far, with the play going right by where he was. So Smith throws the guard and helps finish off the tackle a few yards downfield.
Pass rush moves
The plays above mostly showed how Smith’s quick burst helped him blow up run plays. Those skills also help in the passing game, with the help of some pass rush moves that Smith favors.
This play is a great example of Smith’s pass rushing prowess. Like usual, Smith is quick off the snap. He uses a swim move to get by the center, who is left falling down trying to get a hand on Smith.
Both guards try to get in front of Smith before he gets to their quarterback. Smith is too fast for the right guard, who has to just turn and watch him blow by. The left guard does get a piece of Smith, but he bull rushes him back three yards, disengages and gets to the quarterback for a sack.
Smith’s swim move is advanced and probably his favorite to use. He displays it again on tape, which also results in a sack.
This time, Smith puts the swim move on the left tackle, who ends up lunging after him to no avail. Smith fights through the running back left back to protect, and ends up gang tackling the quarterback with his teammates. The play action gave Smith way too much time to get into the backfield here.
Smith uses his quickness in multiple ways. He can use it to finesse his way around defenders who are trying to cut block him, or avoid them altogether with his swim move. Or he can convert that speed into power, blowing offensive linemen off the ball to collapse running lanes and pulling guards.
The negatives with Smith I’ve seen consistently on other scouting reports of him are his lack of consistency and struggles with double teams. Smith is very good going one-on-one with someone, which the plays I’ve clipped here have shown. Apparently, he can get tangled up in the trenches when multiple blockers take him on. This is why I’ve projected him as a 3-tech early on in his career. He’ll need to add some more weight and strength, plus get coached up with better technique before he can handle the responsibilities of a nose tackle.
As for the consistency, the only evidence I can see of that is his highlight film is only three minutes long. Most are probably double that length. I have no idea if that is just because he didn’t want to edit any more plays, or there was a lack of plays good enough to put in a highlight reel. But if it’s just an attitude problem, I have no question that Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown will whip him into shape, especially with the meritocracy system.
Smith is a special prospect. He has a rare combination of size and speed with a first step that gives viewers shades of Maurice Hurst. I believe he can get some reps in the defensive line rotation as a true freshman. He may only get in four games to preserve his redshirt, but I think he will be good enough to play the entire season. He’ll probably be behind Michael Dwumfour and Aubrey Solomon for a couple of seasons before he is ready to start full-time. After that, he should be next in line of a great string of defensive linemen under Greg Mattison.