Following the retirement of longtime team captain Devin McCourty, the New England Patriots find themselves with some proverbial large shoes to fill.
Not only does the team face a tall task in replicating McCourty’s production at safety, but also the nearly-impossible mission of finding a potential team leader, both on and off the field. After all, the 12-time team captain was known as one of the Pats’ chief in-game play callers, often charged with the duty of keeping his teammates in position.
While these responsibilities could be seen as a bit burdensome for a veteran, they can be downright overwhelming for a rookie. At least … most rookies. One particular player appears to fit the profile. Although the 2023 NFL Draft class is not abundantly deep at the position, New England may be wise to consider Georgia safety Christopher Smith II, as a potential McCourty replacement.
Smith was a solid ‘jack-of-all-trades’ for the National Champions, mostly aligning at free safety within coach Kirby Smart’s defense. However, he also has experience aligning in the box and even at the nickel. In fact, he even showed his special teams prowess by blocking a field goal and returning it for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ SEC Championship victory over LSU.
TOUCHDOWN GEORGIA! pic.twitter.com/ZYQMLhMpGX
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As evidenced by his unorthodox, yet heads-up 95-yard score, Smith is primarily known for his high football IQ. His aptitude to understand coverage techniques, as well as communicating with teammates, already has him drawing comparisons to the recently-retired McCourty. His strong field awareness, high-level ball skills and reputation as a locker room leader only enhances his likeness to the Patriots legend.
However, Smith is not devoid of questions. Having measured at 5-11, 192 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, some have questioned whether the ex-Bulldog possesses the size to be a key component in a pro-level secondary. Smith also had a below-average Combine performance — posting a 4.62 40-yard dash, as well as a 2.91 Relative Athletic Score. In fact, his speed is considered to be the primary culprit in having 11 missed tackles on his resume last season.
Still, New England has never been eager to conform with draft-analyst ‘groupthink.’ Smith’s ability to identify and process opposing offenses makes him a valuable commodity to a Patriots team which prides itself on cerebral football. If Smith remains on the board in the mid-rounds, the Pats may be able to snag a rotational contributor with the potential to be much more in the coming years.
If drafted by the Patriots, Smith — or any rookie at the position — would join safeties Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers and Joshuah Bledsoe on the team’s current depth chart.