Smart steps closer to NFL after combine performance

During the final weekend of April, former defensive tackle Tanzel Smart will likely become the next Tulane player drafted into the NFL.

After his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on March 5, Smart is projected to be selected in the fourth round. If selected in the fourth round, Smart would be tied with Troy Kropog for the highest draft pick from Tulane since running back Matt Forte joined the Chicago Bears in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

At 6-foot-1 and 296 pounds, Smart is part of a new breed of smaller and quicker defensive tackles, an athletic build desired in players like the Rams’ Aaron Donald and the Bengals’ Geno Atkins.

“I love Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Sheldon Rankins,” Smart said to The Times-Picayune. “They’re very explosive.”

Smart is a somewhat similar prospect to Atkins, who is now a five-time pro-bowler and a two-time All-Pro player. Atkins went in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. Like Smart, Atkins is 6-foot-1 and just under 300 pounds. In his combine performance, Atkins outperformed Smart on the bench press and in the 40-yard dash. Despite this, they posted similar numbers in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, both meant to measure quickness and lower body strength.

Furthering the comparison is reporter Lance Zierlein’s analysis of Smart.

“He’s a three-technique only who lacks desired size and length, but his quickness and disruptive nature lead to consistent production week in and week out,” Zierlein said.

The consistent production that Zierlein mentions is Smart’s signature skill. He received playing time all four years and had a career 183 tackles. While starting during his final three years at Tulane, he recorded 39 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

When asked what NFL scouts liked about his performance, Smart was well aware.

“My get off, my low center of gravity; a lot of people like my effort,” Smart said. “They said that takes you a long way.”

Smart has quite a few barriers to break before he is a household name in the NFL, but consistent production and high effort is an excellent first step. He was aware of this after the combine. Effort is the other staple of Smart’s skill set. In his NFL scouting profile, the first strength mentioned is the fact that Smart is “excited to play football on every single rep.”

“It doesn’t matter the size. What matters is the heart. If you make plays, they have to put you on the field.”

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