In a weekend full of big pickups, East Kentwood (MI) defensive tackle Mazi Smith was the literal biggest, and you could make a strong argument for figurative, too. It's always good to grab a 6'3", 295-pound interior lineman with shades of Hurst burst; it's especially good when that guy is an in-stater with offers from Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Penn State.
Smith fills a major need as the first DT among Michigan's [refreshes Twitter] 16 commits in the 2019 class, which now ranks fifth in the country and first in the Big Ten.
|4*, 5.8, #9 DT,
#7 MI, #160 Ovr
|4*, 86, #2 DT,
#3 MI, #29 Ovr
|4*, 91, #14 DT,
#5 MI, #225 Ovr
|4*, #7 DT,
#4 MI, #123 Ovr
ESPN is good now!
Smith is well-regarded. How well-regarded appears to depend on when—or how often—each service saw him in action, as perhaps the primary knock on Smith is his consistency. ESPN loves him, putting him on the verge of five-star status. 247 is on the low end, though in this case that's still within the top 250 overall.
One reason his floor is so high is his size; he's listed at 6'3" and in the range of 285-302 pounds, and he doesn't look to be carrying much, if any, bad weight. He's likely ticketed for Mo Hurst's role as a penetrating three-tech who can slide to nose in certain schemes, and he's got a lot of upside there.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and the rest.]
We'll start with ESPN's underclassman eval, which brings up the consistency thing even though they have him on the verge of a fifth star:
STRENGTHS: Good size and flashes quick first-step. When stays low can generate good push with bull rush and when shoots hands demonstrates strength to press blockers. Flashes ability to attack half-man... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Demonstrates good power when stays low, but needs to work on being more consistent with pad level and can lose hands at times and needs to continue to work on usage.... BOTTOM LINE: Smith needs to continue to develop and improve consistency in areas, but displays he can be a quick, disruptive defender with good power.
The single-game reports, which we're fortunate to have in this case from three outlets (one of which is us), demonstrate the upside and the need for improvement. The Wolverine's Brandon Brown scouted a 21-0 East Kentwood win over Orchard Lake St. Mary's last September in which Smith's strength and size/quickness combination stood out... when he wasn't getting neutralized by cut-blocks and doubles:
There didn't seem to be a glaring weakness in Smith's game against St. Mary's. The Eaglets run a tough scheme for defensive linemen to deal with and it played out that way albeit in a losing effort. Smith was cut a lot and double teamed often making it tough for him to make plays but he still acquitted himself well.
There are always things young linemen can work on and with Smith it would be play recognition and his utilizing his hands a bit better. Coming into a game against an opponent like St. Mary's, players need to know what to expect and while Smith tried to avoid the cut blocks and combos, he still got lost in the wash too much. That's more on the East Kentwood coaching staff than it is Smith but he still let it happen a bit too often. He's got long arms and is extremely powerful but let offensive linemen get into his body a bit too much.
OLSM is a very well-coached program and those are fixable issues, especially once Greg Mattison gets his hands on Smith; they're still worth watching.
A few weeks later, Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt posted a video evaluation of one of Smith's more phenomenal performances:
That's a half-season worth of explosive highlights for some prospects.
Shortly after that, then-Scout analyst Allen Trieu caught a quieter outing against West Ottawa:
Also highly-recruited is defensive tackle Mazi Smith. A big, powerful interior prospect, the Panthers did a solid job keeping Smith from disrupting their offense, but he did make a couple tackles on the night.
Given the other reports around, I'm guessing West Ottawa paid Smith a fair amount of attention, but you'd still like to see more productivity.
Our own Adam Schnepp and Dave Nasternak got out to see one of Smith's late-season games, and this was a good one. The every-snap defense video is above, the full scouting report is free and detailed, and here's Adam's takeaway:
Smith has the current skillset and upside to play 3-technique, and though I won’t go so far as to Dwumfour him up and call him the next Hurst, there’s certainly some resemblance there. On the most basic level, Smith checks all the boxes you want in an underclassman HS lineman: size, speed, and strength. His hand usage is advanced and he diagnoses the run well for a player his age. His biggest strength at this point is his speed off the ball at 6’3” and 290 pounds. Smith doesn’t look like he weighs 290—there’s no evidence of bad weight here—and he certainly doesn’t move like he weighs that much, but he blows through blocks and tackles backs like it.
Considering his height and weight, Smith is almost certainly slated for the interior of the defensive line. He looks like a prototypical 3-tech, but put on a few good pounds and he could possibly play some nose tackle as well. If he ends up at nose, though, he’ll need more seasoning: there’s a huge difference between beating one blocker and holding up against a double team, and Smith is far better suited to win one-on-one battles than to plug away.
After the season, Rivals gave Smith a big boost in their rankings, and a familiar refrain kept him from making an even bigger leap:
“I saw Smith play a game live this season and he was quick, strong, a constant presence in the backfield and tracked plays down sideline to sideline. Now, had he shown that play this season on a more consistent basis we would be talking about an even bigger bump, but as it is we will be looking to see those performances more regularly as he grows and matures as a player. He has visited Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin, where his teammate is committed, already in the recruiting process.” - Rivals.com Midwest Recruiting Analyst Josh Helmholdt
247's Allen Trieu summed it up in his post-commitment evaluation:
High upside, high talent, and a kid whose coaches say works hard in the weight room. He is a smart kid as well who brings intangibles to the table. They get after in East Kentwood's weight room, so he should be ready for what Michigan's strength program would be like. It is not out of the question this kid could play early. The physical gifts are there, it will just depend on him picking up the nuances of the position at Michigan. Even if he does not play right away, he projects as an impact guy in college.
If he keeps his pads low and learns how to use his hands to fight off cut blocks, he should be an excellent three-tech. He could develop into a solid nose, as well, if he can better anchor against double-teams, but his ceiling is highest at the other tackle spot.
Smith holds offers from Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Minnesota, Pitt, and Vanderbilt, among others.
While East Kentwood hasn't been a major talent producer in the past, they have two of the gems of this in-state class in Smith and top-100 tackle Logan Brown, a Wisconsin commit. They're the first two Power 5 commits from the program in the Rivals era (2002-present) but they won't be alone for long: rising juniors DE Bryce Mostella and OG Dallas Fincher already hold Michigan and other Big Ten offers.
FAKE 40 TIME
Smith's Hudl page lists an unverified 5.2, which gets two FAKEs out of five; it's not a specific number but it's quite believable. He also claims a 32-inch vertical and 315-pound bench press.
Sophomore highlights and single-game reels can be found on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
It wouldn't surprise me at all if Smith sees the field as a freshman in a similar fashion as Aubrey Solomon did last year, slowly working his way into the rotation as he gets accustomed to facing college linemen and playing every down with good technique. There will be plenty of opportunity to make an impact as a rotation player behind, presumably, Solomon and Mike Dwumfour; he'll be in competition with Donovan Jeter, Deron Irving-Bey, and any other DTs in the 2019 class.
Smith has a lot of upside with his college-ready frame and first step. I like Mattison's chances of harnessing that ability and developing Smith into an all-conference-caliber tackle.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
It has a very good defensive tackle and we'll let the dust settle before figuring out the rest.