The final rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft drew to a close Saturday without former Kansas safety Fish Smithson getting the optimal congratulatory phone call for which he hoped.
After seven rounds and 253 picks, though, Smithson’s professional aspirations weren’t thwarted. The 5-foot-10, 201-pound defensive back from Baltimore knew entering the weekend free agency could be his path toward his dreams, and not long after the league’s 32 teams were done making selections, Smithson accepted an offer from the Washington Redskins to compete for one of their roster spots.
Signing in this fashion doesn’t guarantee an incoming rookie a contract in the fall, but neither does a late-round draft selection.
KU cornerback Brandon Stewart also agreed to an undisclosed post-draft deal with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Awarded with first-team All-Big 12 honors by the league’s coaches in his senior season at KU, Smithson, a two-year starter, made a team-best 93 total tackles and four interceptions in 2016, a year after leading the nation in solo tackles (7.9 a game, 87 in total).
Projected as a late-round pick or free agent before the draft, NFL.com’s prospect profile on Smithson lauded the Kansas safety for his instincts and on-field awareness.
“Good pattern recognition from two-high and single-high coverage and adjusts his coverage with haste,” Lance Zierlein wrote in his analysis at NFL.com. “Quick to recognize play-action and sink into his coverage territory. Has experience covering slot. Used instincts and ball skills to defend 10-of-18 targets this season, including four interceptions. Races downhill from safety spot to jump into a contain position against the run. Shows no hesitation to plug into run fits and stick his nose in. Has potential to operate as combo safety.”
Smithson’s review from Zierlein at NFL.com also noted weaknesses he would have to overcome at the next level, citing flat-footed tackles, missed or broken tackles surrendered and “athletic limitations” keeping him from making more plays or keeping up with speedy receivers in man coverage.
Still, Zierlein judged the safety from Kansas has potential as an NFL backup: “Smithson is a little smaller and a little slower than teams might like at the safety spot, but his instincts and overall football intelligence make up for some of his physical limitations. With six interceptions over the last two seasons, Smithson has shown that he has the ball skills to pair with his instinctive nature, but his issues finishing tackles will not be taken lightly by NFL teams.”
In his senior season at KU, Stewart, a 6-foot corner from Cedar Hill, Texas, broke up eight passes and came away with three interceptions for Kansas.