When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Donovan Smith in the second round, that was a bit of a surprise to many people. Most draftniks saw him as a late-second rounder, or even a third-round pick. There were indications that he was more highly-valued by NFL teams, though -- he was a late risers, which usually means that draftniks are adjusting to what they're hearing from NFL teams, and he was the fifth tackle among NFL scouts and executives polled by Bob McGinn. And the Bucs like him enough to name him their starting left tackle, at least for now -- perhaps he'll lose that job in training camp, but it doesn't look like it.
And it makes sense: Smith is a very big guy, and a very good athlete. He measured in at 6'5", 333 lbs and ran a 5.01-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. The one concern with Smith is his work ethic, and relatedly, his weight. It's something you keep seeing in scouting reports, and of course Bob McGinn managed to find some anonymous quotes to back them up.
"I thought he was fat and messy and played lazy," one scout said. "He has had issues like that. He's got talent. It's more where you think he is as far as want-to." Redshirted in 2011 but, after obtaining his degree, opted against returning for his senior season. "He's a giant human being that can kind of do whatever he wants," another scout said. "He's got good feet and bend for a big guy. Definitely can be a left tackle. He also can play with power. He was completely dominant at the Senior Bowl. But he's selfish, is up and down in games and has weight and conditioning issues."
So, that sounds bad, right? But that's why Smith was available at pick number 34. He's got all the physical talent you need in a left tackle, and he flashes dominant and nasty play. But at times he looks a little lazy with his technique, he has weight issues and there are some legitimate concerns about his work ethic. Obviously the Bucs thought those issues wouldn't be a concern -- or at least not enough of a concern to pass on him -- they expect him to be their starting left tackle.
We do have some precedent for players like this, however. Players who came into the league with weight and work ethic issues, and who had those issues throughout their career -- and still succeeded. One of them is Bengals right tackle Andre Smith, who has alternated being an adequated tackle with being a dominant one. But the guy I would go to for Smith is Bryant McKinnie, the seventh overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft.
McKinnie was a massive lineman: he was 6'8", 335 lbs, and he was an incredible athlete. He had weight issues throughout his career, at one point reportedly coming in at over 400 lbs. He had work ethic issues, and his play was lazy. Just look at what Cosell told Matt Waldman about McKinnie.
Waldman: Bryant McKinnie.
Cosell: He's a big-time stiff. I mean if you look at his physical attributes you would say that he should be a great left tackle, but he doesn't play that way. He's a lazy player, he doesn't have good technique, and he's a non-competitive player. He's one of my least - and you know me, it's nothing personal, I'm just telling you what I see - he's one of my least favorite players over the last 3-4 years. He almost engenders a physical reaction in me when I watch him because he bothers me so much.
But here's the thing: McKinnie started at left tackle in the NFL for 12 years, making one Pro Bowl in the process. That wasn't because he was terrible. Yes, he was lazy. Yes, he seemed to be coasting at times. Yes, he had weight issues. But he was still good enough start. He wasn't Walter Jones, he didn't live up to his talent, but he wasn't a liability either.
And that's the thing. I don't know how well-founded the concerns about Smith's work ethic are, and I'm not sure whether those will disappear once he gets to the NFL. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't -- that's very tough to project. But even if they are well-founded, even if they do carry over to the NFL, that doesn't mean he's going to be a bust. Simply because Smith's size and athletic prowess are good enough to carry him through a productive NFL career -- maybe not at left tackle, maybe he'll have to slide over to guard, but even if he's lazy, he can still succeed.
There's one fundamental truth to line play in the NFL: it's difficult to get past huge athletes. And Smith is one big athlete.