Could Brandon Smith be the next big time Penn State linebacker? I think so. Let’s take a look at his background, skill set, and why he could be in for a breakout Junior Season!
With his big frame, athleticism, and versatility, Brandon Smith has everything you are looking for in a linebacker. His role has been growing at Penn State, but the best is yet to come from the talented young linebacker. Smith is an IDP devy linebacker you need to know as we watch his game ascend.
In this article, I take a look at Smith’s high school background, start to his collegiate career, and more importantly, why he could be in for a breakout junior campaign. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
High School Career
Brandon Smith played his prep ball at Louisa County High School in his hometown of Mineral, Virginia. Smith was a star at Louisa County and began making a big impact early on as a sophomore. Capping off his impressive career with the Lions, Smith had a stellar senior year compiling 135 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles. Now that’s some production.
Due to Smith’s impressive play, the honors and awards poured in. Along with earning All-Conference honors, Smith was named to the All-USA first team by the USA Today, as well as the MaxPreps All-America first team. Smith was also named the 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia and participated in the Under Armour All-American game.
It goes without saying, but Smith was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. He was a five-star rated recruit by 247 Sports and was their top overall prospect in the state of Virginia. In total, Smith received 29 scholarship offers that included many of the big-time programs. Eventually, Smith chose to take his talents to Penn State, which has a history of producing some very productive linebackers.
First Two Seasons at Penn State (2019-2020)
With players like Cameron Brown and the ultra-talented Micah Parsons on the roster, Smith saw limited action as a true freshman. Seeing limited reps, Smith was only able to produce 14 tackles (8 solos) and 2 tackles for loss in his first year. Although the production was modest, he just had to wait his turn with the upperclassmen on the roster.
This year, as a sophomore, Smith saw his role drastically increase for the Penn State defense. He started and played in all nine games for the Nittany Lions, playing the SAM linebacker role. Smith went on to amass 37 tackles (15 solos), 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 1 interception.
While his tackle total may not be a “big” number, it’s important to consider the role he played. The SAM linebacker plays mostly outside or in the slot and not up in the box. It’s not an easy role to play. However, Smith showcased his versatility and ability to make impact plays behind the line.
Why the Junior Year Breakout?
At 6’3’’ and 240 pounds, Brandon Smith has a solid build for the linebacker position. Not only is Smith a bigger linebacker, but he’s also a smooth athlete. He moves fluidly and has good play speed, which aids him in eating up ground quickly. With his length and speed, Smith is a player that can cover the field, sideline to sideline.
While he’s still developing in coverage, Smith has flashed some ability there. His length could really be effective in disrupting passing lanes when dropping in zone coverage. Smith can also get it done as a blitzer with his speed and power. He’s still gaining experience, but Smith has all the tools to be an impact linebacker.
Here you can see Smith’s closing speed as he gets to the quarterback in a hurry blitzing from the slot:
Penn State LB Brandon Smith (@brand0n_smith12) is a special athlete for the linebacker position. He is going to be able to cover TEs and RBs at the next level. Comes downhill hard and is a really fast player. All the tools NFL teams covet in an LB. #NFLDraft #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/3fLRp6CgS6
— Jack Borowsky (@Jack_Borowsky) March 17, 2021
With Micah Parsons opting out last year, Jesse Luketa filled his vacant weak side (Will) role. Talk about big shoes to fill, right? As I said earlier, Smith played the SAM spot and it’s more of a hybrid role, playing outside and in the slot. Well, Luketa didn’t exactly seize the weak side role and now the coaching staff is turning to Brandon Smith. Smith was holding down the Will spot during Spring practices and the defense will be relying on him to have a big junior year.
The move to Will linebacker will put Smith in the box more and he will be key to the defense stopping the run. The switch will also allow him to use his speed and athleticism more to run and make plays. Last year at SAM, Smith would come off the field at times for an extra coverage player. That won’t be the case this year and he even shifted to the weak side at the end of last year in this situation.
All in all, the role change means Smith will be relied upon to be a playmaker for the Penn State defense, much like Parsons was. I’m not at all saying Smith will be Parsons, but he has the skill set to flourish in the role. I’m expecting Smith to fill the stat columns this year with plenty of tackles and continue to make impact plays behind the line. The new position comes with new responsibilities, and Smith is a smart player who will be up for the challenge.
With the new role and added responsibilities, the 2021 season is going to be crucial for Brandon Smith. Having a big junior year could really put him on the map and boost his draft stock. I can’t wait to see him progress in his new role and I expect him to be one of the premier defenders in the Big 10 this year.
If you play in Campus to Canton or IDP Devy leagues, I’d look to acquire Smith before his price goes up. Buying Smith now before the potential breakout could be an investment with a very nice return.