Penn State’s Brandon Smith may be the most athletic linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Louisa, Virginia native ran a blazing 4.52 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Smith’s high-level athletic traits were on full display all throughout the event. He also leaped a 37.5-inch vertical and 128-inch broad jump. NFL franchises that prioritize elite athletes at the linebacker position will be extremely high on Smith.
Smith recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network regarding his unbelievable combine performance and experience, his career at Penn State, his favorite aspect of playing linebacker, why he would love to become an FBI detective someday, and so much more.
JM: You had a great season in 2021 by totaling 87 tackles in 13 appearances. How do you reflect on your final season at Penn State?
Brandon Smith: I really just look back on all of the good that I did. I put a lot of great things on tape throughout my final season. I feel like that helped me create a lot of momentum for myself moving forward.
For me, I’m one of my own biggest critics. I look at the stuff I need to work on as well. I can analyze the film and identify things I need to work on improving. By going through this process, I was obviously aware that I would have to answer some of those questions as well. It wasn’t always perfect. I’m not naive or blind to that. I understand the game of football and I know there’s always something I can work on. I look at the good and the bad throughout the course of the season. I’m thankful for all of those experiences to be honest with you.
JM: Being able to be honest with yourself regarding your own personal evaluation is so important to achieving growth. Penn State has developed so many incredible linebackers throughout the years, including Micah Parsons, and you could be next in line to live up to that “LBU” moniker. What is it about the program that allows it to develop high-level linebackers?
Brandon Smith: I like to analyze the overall situation the program placed us in. That’s where it all starts. We played in a scheme that helped prepare us for the NFL. Coach Brent Pry was my defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, and he did a great job developing that mindset within his players. He really prepared us for what’s to come as we get ready to take our careers to the NFL level. He really put us in the best situations possible. Depending on what we’re able to handle from an athletic standpoint, he put us in ideal situations from a positional standpoint. He always wanted us and our play to be viewed in a positive manner.
JM: Coach Pry is a terrific coach. What did you learn from sitting behind and watching some of the greats that came before you?
Brandon Smith: I paid close attention to their thought process and overall habits. When you sit back and watch the film, you can get a sense and feel for who that person is as a player. The film tells the story. You can continuously sort through the reps and pay attention to not only how they play, but also to their thought process during certain plays and whatnot. I paid attention to the tendencies throughout certain formations and things of that nature. There’s a lot that goes on throughout the course of a play. I paid attention to all of it. That can give you a sense of how somebody thinks without even talking to them. That’s how I look at it.
JM: The little things that lead to on-field improvement obviously aren’t lost on you. What’s your favorite aspect of playing linebacker?
Brandon Smith: I love that we’re somewhat of a hybrid defensive back in today’s pass-happy league. We’re also something of an extra defensive lineman. We really get the best of both worlds. We have to deal with the linemen on a daily basis. We also have to flip our hips while turning and running in coverage. You really get the best of both worlds while playing the linebacker position. That’s honestly how I look at it. The linebacker has to be the best player on the field in my personal opinion. We have so much on our plate on any given rep. We have to be extremely versatile.
JM: It’s such a fun position to play and study. On that topic, do you feel like your game is more developed as a run stopper, or in pass coverage at this point in time?
Brandon Smith: To be honest with you, I feel like I combine the two to form the best of both worlds. I think I’m a well-developed defender in both of those areas. Granted, there are still things I’m working on to become a more complete player as I alluded to earlier. I feel like I’m well off, to be honest with you. I’m a long-armed defender. Quarterbacks have a tough time trying to drop the ball over the top of my head in pass coverage. As far as man-to-man coverage goes, I’m athletic enough to turn and run with these receivers.
In the run game, I’m big enough to basically stop and stun those offensive linemen. I can close up gaps and fill them as necessary. I can make a big impact in the running game as well. It makes me feel like I’m well developed in both of those areas.
JM: The tape doesn’t lie. You talked about how coach Pry and the coaching staff put you in a great system. I want to expand on that a little bit. What do you think it was about the system specifically that did that for you?
Brandon Smith: It’s not a very complex system as far as the plays and our overall verbiage, although you definitely feel that pressure when you step onto the field for the first time at Penn State. You’re going to struggle with the playbook a little bit when you first arrive from a general point of view. It’s a natural part of the process here at Penn State.
It eventually becomes rather straightforward to catch onto what we’re trying to achieve here. You learn your responsibilities and you become familiar with the responsibilities of your teammates as well. You’re able to grow your football I.Q. within that system. We constantly expanded on our knowledge of the game. When you talk to other people about what you had to do within certain plays, we’re able to go into deep detail about the defense. We knew the positions we were put in, and we’re happy to go through the details with others throughout this process.
JM: Having that understanding and full grasp of the defense is so important. You were incredible at the combine. You ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds despite weighing 250 pounds. Your vertical (37.5 inches) and broad jumps (128 inches) were excellent as well. Do you feel like you surprised some people in Indianapolis?
Brandon Smith: I definitely feel like I did. I think I surprised the people that maybe had a blind eye to what my abilities were, even though I’m as big and long as I am. It’s a testament to my mindset and how I’ve been training throughout this pre-draft process. I was trying to prove myself right as opposed to worrying about proving others wrong. I knew I was going to test as well as I did. I was extremely familiar with my capabilities. I’ve been training that way ever since our season ended and focus shifted towards getting ready for the pre-draft process.
I didn’t surprise myself with what I did. Not at all. I knew what I was going to do out there. Hopefully I opened up some additional eyes in regards to the people who weren’t familiar with my overall athletic profile.
JM: They’re certainly aware now. Have you made any virtual or Top 30 in-person visits, and do you have any more of those coming up?
Brandon Smith: We’re quickly heading toward the actual draft itself. I went on several visits. I’ve definitely made my rounds, especially locally. I’ve made some in-person visits, and I’ve had some virtual meetings as well. I visited the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Philadelphia Eagles in person. I’ve received some great feedback throughout the process. I had some great meetings with not only those teams, but with several others overall. It’s been quite the process.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. If you could sit down and pick the brain of any linebacker in the history of the game, who would you choose and why?
Brandon Smith: I’ve actually been blessed to receive a few of those opportunities. One of those people for me was legendary Penn State linebacker Jack Ham. He’s a classic alumni. The second for me was Ray Lewis. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with both of those gentlemen. I went to one of Ray Lewis’ football camps when I was still in high school. I went there and had a great experience with him.
I spoke with Jack Ham when I first arrived at Penn State. I picked his brain a little bit. I enjoyed being around him in general. You can pick somebody’s brain and whatnot, but being around that person allows you to feel their energy. I felt his passion toward the game of football. It gave me added motivation regardless of what they may say from an X’s and O’s perspective.
That’s my personal take on it. Everybody has their own opinion as far as how they would carry that and treat those opportunities but I really just loved being around those men and letting them lead by example. That’s what I mean when I say I saw those experiences outside of an X’s and O’s point of view.
JM: Those are two legendary individuals and we’re glad you got to learn from them. I read in your biography that you would love to become an FBI detective one day when your playing career is over. You don’t hear that every day. What attracts you to that line of work?
Brandon Smith: That’s the route I initially wanted to take after my football playing career comes to a close. That was one of the goals I actually had as a child. I’ve kinda switched it up and embraced the thought of broadcast journalism.
What was interesting to me about a potential career as an FBI detective was the positive impact I could make on the community. That’s one. That’s outside of putting your life in danger at some point. For me, I just want to be a difference-maker within the world. You can turn on the television today and hear some terrible things that are going on in the world. I want to be on the front lines and be a face for positive change. I want to stand up and tell people that it’s okay for them to feel safe and secure even though the world is unfortunately littered with ugly situations.
That’s what my thought process was and what initially drew me to the world of becoming an FBI detective. More recently, I’ve studied broadcast journalism with a minor in film. I can see myself in front of the camera one day. I would love to help create a documentary or be in a movie. I wanna be on TV on the NFL Network, ESPN, things of that nature (laughs). I want to extend my life within the game of football once my career comes to a close, many, many years from now. I want to make my voice heard in general. That’s my thought process behind that. That’s where I see myself headed one day.
JM: That’s the perfect way for us to end this terrific conversation. We can’t wait to watch you become a difference-maker both on and off the field. I’ve appreciated your time today. What kind of impact is Brandon Smith going to make at the next level?
Brandon Smith: Whoever drafts me, they’re going to get somebody that’s truly in love with the game of football. You’re going to get a great player and an even better person off the field. That’s a big part of it. I’m always going to make sure I represent the organization in the desired manner. I’m never going to put anybody or anything at risk. That’s what a team is getting in Brandon Smith.
Whatever hours I have to put in as I attempt to become one of the all-time greats, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I wanna become the face of the organization. That’s what it’s gonna take.