The Draft Network is ripping back through the notable storylines from some historical NFL Drafts -- 2008 was last Monday, if you missed it. You get an entire first round redraft, the biggest bust, and the biggest steal as well.
I really love these series, because -- and this won't come as a shock to any of our ardent TDNers -- I was 12 years old when the 2009 NFL Draft happened. I've heard the name Jason Smith before, but I didn't really know much about his story and how he busted -- if we can even call it a bust.
Regardless, Smith's story is an interesting read, both for the things that have changed (concussion protocol!) and the things that have remained painfully the same (can tackles play out of a 2-point stance?! Is that allowed?!).
You can check out the entire 2009 redraft here.
2009 NFL Draft Bust: Jason Smith, OT, St. Louis Rams (No. 2 Overall)
Smith was always a player against the odds. As a high schooler, Smith worked multiple part-time jobs, with a dream of one day owning his own ranch in the Dallas area. He never had the chance to fill out a huge frame because he never ate enough in high school -- and accordingly, he was recruited as a tight end despite playing as an offensive tackle for most of his college career.
But once he entered Baylor and gained mass, Smith returned to offensive tackle, steadily improving for the course of his college career and finally declaring as a senior for the 2009 NFL Draft as an All-American on the offensive line. Smith received Draft attention and love for his strength and aggression down the field, as well as his bright personality and clear love for the game -- and while teams were concerned about Smith's two-point stances at Baylor, they still believed he could be a franchise NFL tackle.
At least, the Rams (St. Louis, that is) did -- enough that they selected him second overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, signing him to a 6-year, $61.8M deal.
Everything was pretty much downhill from there. Smith started as a rookie, as was to be expected, given the money that was poured into his contract -- but his play was shaky and injury hampered his time on the field and his development off it. Smith had finally seemed to settle into groove before a fateful Week 11 game against the Cardinals, during which Smith caught a knee to the head and was concussed. He didn't see the field for the remainder of the season.
Smith played in all but one game of 2010 and only six games of 2011, both due to concussions. According to a Jeff Eisenburg feature on Smith's short career, Smith suffered at least five or six concussions over four years in the NFL, some of which went undocumented. Smith told Eisenburg that the concussions still affect him: "The doctors would have me try to read a sentence and my eyes would get stuck on a word and then they would jump. To this day, I have to wear glasses with a certain kind of tint so my eyes don’t twitter and jump. There’s certain things I can’t watch on TV. If there are lights flickering, I just get headaches that lay me out. I’m still affected by them, basically. It’s something I have to go through.”
As he lost time due to concussions, he also lost the necessary time in the film room and on the practice field to develop. His confidence dropped, his aggressiveness downfield vanished. Public scrutiny tightened the screws on a highly-visible player, worth a boatload of money, who had already purchased his pie-in-the-sky ranch, suffering from injuries that weren't well understood at the time.
Smith was eventually traded to the New York Jets for peanuts on the dollar, and he floated between New York and New Orleans in the hope of sticking somewhere and winning a starting job -- it never came to pass. Smith retired in August of 2013, having played in 45 games and started 26, with a fat rookie contract and the scars of multiple concussions to show for it.
It isn't easy to call Smith a flat-out bust, considering the medical implications around his lack of NFL success. The degree to which concussions impacted his play style and confidence isn't fully understood, but it isn't hard to connect those injuries to his surprising character shift from hungry Baylor Bear to listless St. Louis Ram.