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NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Notre Dame S Harrison Smith

03.21.12 at 11:21 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

Harrison Smith shined at safety for Notre Dame after converting from linebacker. (AP)

HARRISON SMITH

Position: Safety

School: Notre Dame

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 213 pounds

Achievements: 2011 Thorpe Award preseason watch list (2011), Nagurski Trophy preseason watch list (2011), Notre Dame Nick Pietrosante Award winner (2011)

What he brings: In a weak draft for safeties, Smith is an imperfect but talented prospect who certainly looks the part, bringing prototypical size and solid speed to the position. After spending some time at linebacker early in his career at Notre Dame, Smith made the full-time move to safety during his junior season and has thrived ever since. The former team captain has built a reputation as an instinctive player with solid football intelligence that was a key part of Notre Dame’s overhaul of its defense over the past few seasons.

As would be expected, the former linebacker is solid in run support, whether it’s from a deep safety position, from up in the box or when he’s asked to blitz from the edge on the line of scrimmage. Smith is known to lay the hammer on defenders and take on blockers well, especially for a safety, showing an ability to take on and discard blocks rather than go around them and catch up in pursuit.

When he is in coverage, Smith is aggressive, working well out of zone coverage with a keen ability to read to quarterback, diagnose the play and use his instincts to jump the route. More fast than fluid and quick, Smith is great when asked to drop back and anticipate the play rather than playing man-to-man, where he’s been known to struggle against quick receivers.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 1-2

Notes: Smith is best when he’s attacking downhill from the safety spot, where his aggressiveness and power best suit him. He can handle tight ends well in man-to-man coverage, in which he can counter against players that try to box out defenders with their size. However, against a spread offense where he’ll be asked to run with flexed-out Aaron Hernandez-type tight ends and Wes Welker-type slot receivers, Smith’s aggression and lack of fluidity will be tested early and often by opposing offenses.

Smith has seen his stock consistently rising as of late, with draftniks such as ESPN’s Mel Kiper having him off the board as early as the late first round. Outside of Alabama’s Mark Barron, Smith is mostly competing with a weak draft class, where his aggressive upside shines more brightly against a cast of weaker-than-usual prospects. Smith could come off the board earlier than expected if a team with a need at safety misses out on Barron and feels desperate.

Related articles:

The Observer: Harrison Smith honored as lone captain

Chicago Tribune: Smith finds his voice

Knoxnews.com: Ex-Catholic star Harrison Smith has been a leader at Notre Dame

Video: Here’s a highlight package showing Smith’s abilities in run support as well as a solid helping of his seven interceptions as a junior.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Harrison Smith, Notre Dame
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