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Better Know a Freshman: Cole Smith

Mississippi brawler may grind his way into a prominent role.

Recruiting offensive lineman hasn’t been an issue. Just take a look at LSU’s last four signing classes:

2017: Deculus (4*), Charles (4*), Ingram (4*), Stewart (3*)
2016: Campbell (4*), Allen (4*), Savage (3*), Cushenberry (3*)
2015: Teuhema (5*), Weathersby (4*), Valentine-Okeke (4*), Brown (3*)
2014: Brumfield (4*), Clapp (4*), Domond (3*)

Take one look at that list and you would assume LSU was bringing a deep and experienced offensive line group back for 2018. When you recruit like LSU, you expect some attrition due and early departures, but now look at the list of guys still with the program:

2017: Deculus (4*), Charles (4*), Ingram (4*), Stewart (3*)
2016: Campbell (4*), Allen (4*), Savage (3*), Cushenberry (3*)
2015: Teuhema (5*), Weathersby (4*), Valentine-Okeke (4*), Brown (3*)
2014: Brumfield (4*), Clapp (4*), Domond (3*)

Out of 15 players recruited in a four-year period, only seven remain on the current roster. Of those eight departures, only two were early entries to the NFL draft. Evaluating prospects seemed to be an issue under former off. line coach Jeff Grimes, although most of the recruits he pulled to Baton Rouge where highly ranked by recruiting services. So perhaps development was the issue?

We likely won’t crack that egg, but 2018 brought in yet another promising group of line recruits, even as Grimes left the program.

Cole Smith is the type of grinder that I would project to excel under Grimes. What does his future look like with a new off. line coach?

The Story

South Alabama, Marshall, Tulane, Arkansas State, UL Monroe, UL Lafayette. Those were the offers Cole Smith had in hand in March of last year when the Oregon Ducks called. The next day, Smith tripped to Baton Rouge and LSU followed up. Smith committed on the spot.

Smith’s recruiting odyssey is much like many of the LSU signees from this cycle: he shut it down. He took an unofficial visit to LSU in September, his official visit in December and then signed in the early signing period.

Okay, it wasn’t quite 100-percent drama free. When Grimes departed and Mississippi State hired Joe Moorhead, the Bulldogs made a renewed push for Smith, whose father is an alumnus. Smith contemplated visiting and perhaps even flipping for the home state school, but Orgeron kept on him and he stuck to his LSU commitment.

The Numbers

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has “can’t miss” talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Ranking: ***
247 Composite Rating: .8844

Smith remained a three-star throughout the process. At 6’4”, 275, he has a nice frame for an interior prospect and most project he will wind up playing center at LSU. That’s a really good size for the position, but perhaps limits his ability to play on the outside.

Smith was selected to Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and the Under Armour All-American Game. Smith, again, is a guy who impressed at some camp settings. At the Under Armour camp in Houston, 247 sports writer Greg Powers had this to say:

Not currently rated that is sure to change quickly as Smith earned an invitation to the Under Armour All-America Game after a very good showing against the big-bodied and strong defensive tackles in attendance. He was listed with the wrong number on the media roster, so I was quick to find out who this massive center was.

The big takeaway from Under Amour bowl practices seemed to be that he is an exceptionally coachable and hard working player, but physically he still needs to add some requisite bulk to play the position. Many of the notes on his week of practice remark how he was bullied by bigger, stronger players. It makes sense, just looking at him, you can tell how lean he is. 275, if he weighs that, isn’t a ton of weight to carry on a 6-4 frame for a lineman. Thankfully, barring disaster he should be in good position to red shirt and have time to grow into his frame.

The Film

The fact that Cole Smith didn’t bother to add music to his highlights says pretty much everything you need to know about his style.

Smith plays all over on tape, mixing in at left tackle, some at center, and even some snaps on the defensive line. On the hoof he strikes me as one of those corn-fed midwestern types that seems to always find their way to Wisconsin and Iowa. Just big, thick country boys.

Smith really has an interesting frame. He’s big. He’s thick, especially in the lower half. But he doesn’t have that typical guy you see from most linemen.

He’s definitely a guy I would describe as a mauler, but there are clips of him in pass pro where I’m really impressed with how he chops his feet and the type of technique he shows at such a young age. He knows how to set his base and not allow himself to get overextended. It likely helps that his dad is a former player who lasted nearly a decade in the NFL. But it also shows that he’s very coachable.

He definitely plays a little past the whistle. He’s got a nasty streak. He’s a bully. Probably good traits to have as an offensive lineman, but just needs to make sure he keeps that stuff in check.

He’s pretty mobile. He can pull and trap. That gives you options from your center.

Solid punch. He’s not a jawbreaker like Trai Turner was, but he can definitely get into you. He can drive a pile. He’s got pretty good power for a guy that’s not 300-plus pounds right now.

The Future

Smith almost surely won’t see the field in 2018 and that’s a good thing. He needs to add size and strength to really fulfill his potential. But it’s great news that he’s already on campus and going through LSU practices and conditioning. Next season, Garrett Brumfield’s starting guard spot will open up, which Smith could be a legitimate candidate for if he continues to put in the work.

Most project Smith to be the C of the future. Lloyd Cushenberry takes the reigns this year, but he’s just a redshirt sophomore, so could be entrenched for another three seasons. Where Smith slots will be interesting to see. Most of those interior distinctions tend to erode once players get on campus. Hell, maybe James Cregg works him out two years and thinks he’s a tackle. He’s on the smaller side size wise, but it’s not unheard of.

Smith comes from an NFL pedigree and he’s got a great work ethic. I like the player I see on tape, though I hope he tones down a bit on the late play shenanigans. It’s nothing abjectly dirty, but definitely the type of thing that could draw a quick flag in a game really focused on player safety.

He looks so much like a vintage Iowa lineman and I mean that in the absolute best way. I’m bullish on Smith. I like his toughness. I like his pedigree.

High End: Multi-year Starter
Low End: Transfer back to Mississippi
Realistic: Swing lineman and contributor. One year starter.