For football fans in Utah, the big mystery of Sunday's NFL draft is: When will BYU tight end Chris Smith be chosen? There seems to be some disagreement. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has been quoted as saying Smith ran a slow 40-yard dash at the National Scouting Combine in February, which, along with his questionable blocking skills, caused him to drop from the No. 1 tight end to somewhere in the top four. Kiper forecasts a fifth- or sixth-round selection for Smith.
USA Today, however, published the National Scouting Combine rankings this week, showing that Smith ran a 4.78 40. That's well above average for tight ends, and good enough to get him ranked second in the nation at his position. His overall combine rating was 6.50, which falls somewhere between "7.0 - eventual starter" and "6.0 - backup as rookie."And then there's Pro Football Weekly, which conducted a mock draft of the first five rounds this week in which three tight ends were picked, none named Smith.
"Smith is far from admired and is often likened to former BYU tight ends Clay Brown and Gordon Hudson, neither of whom did much in the NFL," said Joel Buchsbaum, draft analyst for Pro Football Weekly. "Some feel he is a product of the BYU offense, and many of his catches came on pick plays. Nobody has ever accused him of being a physical blocker or player, and he does not have great speed or ease of movement."
Then again, said Buchsbaum, "Smith has above-average size (6-foot-31/2, 235), excellent hands and a feel for finding the soft spots in the zone."
In his own behalf, Smith said the knocks against him are "false advertising." He said he didn't run that well at the combine because of a tight hamstring, and wonders how his blocking can be evaluated fairly when he was called on to do it so seldom at BYU.
"I don't have the greatest technique, but I do it," he said. "At BYU, tight ends don't spend a lot of time on blocking. I'm sure when I get to the NFL, they'll teach me good techniques."
Perhaps the key to all this is the kind of team that will pick Smith. Tight ends that caught a lot of passes in college aren't that common, so while pro teams that use the tight end largely as a third tackle are likely to pass on him, teams that actually throw to the tight end - like the Rams and Raiders - might put more than fifth-round value on Smith.
As for other in-state players, there are several with draft potential but probably only one with a chance to go higher than Smith - BYU teammate Neal Fort, an offensive tackle. On Pro Football Weekly's list of Best Available Athletes (regardless of position), Fort ranked 102nd in the nation, Smith 181st. Among offensive tackles, Fort ranked 9th.
Fort, 6-5, 280, was the Cougars' best offensive lineman last season, but like all linemen trained in BYU's pass-dominant scheme, scouts have concerns about his ability to run block.
Like Smith, Fort is confident that he has NFL ability and can learn anything he is asked. "They'll have to teach me to do what they want, just like they did here (at BYU)," he said.
Here's a look at the other local players who have draft potential: Brian Mitchell, BYU: Cornerback, 5-10, 170 pounds, 4.52 speed. Ranked 249th in nation by PFW, making him likely draftee, depending on demand for defensive backs this year. Ranked 26th among cornerbacks, with grade of 4.9 (less than 50-50 chance of making NFL roster). Sometimes criticized for getting burned deep, but so were former BYU defensive backs Rodney Thomas and Rodney Rice, and both are still in the NFL.
Mike Keim, BYU: Offensive tackle, 6-7, 275, 5.45. Ranked 27th. Didn't start until midway through junior season and only second team All-WAC as senior, but as former Jazz coach Frank Layden says, "You can't teach tall (big)."
Matt Bellini, BYU: Played halfback in college, projected as wide receiver by scouts. 5-11, 195, 4.7. Ranked 98th.
Andy Boyce, BYU: Wide receiver, 6-0, 180, 4.8. Ranked 106th. Not fast, but scouts consider him an overachiever.
Brent Nyberg, BYU: Wide receiver, 6-1, 190, 4.75. Ranked 114th. Another overachiever.
Bob Stephens, BYU: Center, 6-3, 280, 5.49. Ranked 14th.
Rich Kaufusi, BYU: Defensive tackle, 6-3, 260, 5.12. Ranked 36th. Above-average speed. Brother was late-bloomer, plays for Eagles. Aggressive attitude could make him good special-teams player.
Alema Fitisemanu, BYU: Inside linebacker, 6-1, 230, 4.8. Ranked 32nd. Played outside linebacker in college, too small for that position in pros. Another who could make it on special-teams ability.
Sean Knox, Utah: Cornerback, 5-10, 177, 4.57. Played safety for Utes.
Wayne Lammle, Utah: Kicker, 6-2, 214. Ranked 11th among punters, 12th among placekickers.
Ryan Duve, Utah State: Tight end, 6-7, 225, 4.99. Applied for early entry after junior season. Ranked 45th.
Greg Haynes, Utah State: Cornerback, 5-11, 180, 4.63. Ranked 57th.
Jody Marshall, Weber State: Cornerback, 5-11, 170, 4.43. Ranked 51st. Fast, considered developmental prospect.
Darion Scott, Weber State: Safety, 6-1, 200, 4.7.