Part 2 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft.
The days of being overlooked at Florida Atlantic have passed for cornerback D’Joun Smith. A successful pro day has turned into more meetings and workouts.
And another conversation with the Bears.
“We were joking and just talking about football,” Smith said Monday of his talk with the Bears after his pro day April 2. “We were just having a genuine conversation about football and stuff outside football, talking about life and everything. It was a really good conversation.”
It’s genuine because there’s familiarity. Before his pro day, Smith spoke with the Bears at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.
A cornerback might not top general manager Ryan Pace’s long list of draft needs, but there’s value in having cornerbacks who can cover, tackle and make plays in this era of pass-oriented offenses.
Smith had a head-turning pro day, improving on his combine results — specifically the 40-yard dash (4.34 seconds) and the bench press (21 repetitions of 225 pounds) — and gaining some needed weight.
As a result, Smith’s draft stock might have improved by a full round. Smith could be an option for the Bears in the second round with the 39th overall selection.
“It’s been a lot of positive feedback,” Smith said. “Just to know that these guys got you on their mind and that they came out there and looked at you, that let’s me know I’m heading in the right direction.”
Smith primarily played man coverage in college, but scouts have liked his footwork and his ability to adjust to techniques. He has worked out for the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons and had a private meeting with the New England Patriots before his pro day. The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also have expressed interest.
“My coaches from my college have told me that a lot of teams that didn’t even talk to me at the pro day were asking a lot of questions about what I can do and everything,” said Smith, who is 5-10 and 192 pounds. “I feel like a fair amount of teams have interest in me.”
It’s not surprising that the Bears are included. The Bears’ new brass reveres second-year cornerback Kyle Fuller, but Tim Jennings struggled last season, Alan Ball received only a one-year contract and Al Louis-Jean and Demontre Hurst still have much to prove.
“I can play multiple positions on defense,” said Smith, who graduates May 1, the second day of the draft. “I’ve played safety. I’ve played nickel. I bring very, very good versatility.”
Smith believes he belongs in the conversation with the best cornerbacks in the draft. Michigan State’s Trae Waynes is expected to be the first cornerback selected. Smith has been training with Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson, a projected first-round pick.
“There’s some great talent at cornerback this year,” Smith said.
And the Bears are looking at it.
POSITION SPOTLIGHT: Cornerback
Rating the Bears’ need: Medium
This Bears regime didn’t draft second-year cornerback Kyle Fuller, but coach John Fox is a big believer in his makeup.
“He definitely fits,” Fox said last month. “Being part of the evaluation just a year ago for my former team, we held him in high regard, thought he was an outstanding football player, the way he played instinctually, as well as the physical skills.”
The Bears signed veteran Alan Ball to a one-year deal. They also signed Al Louis-Jean and Demontre Hurst, who are in their second and third seasons, respectively, to two-year extensions in February.
The biggest question mark might be veteran Tim Jennings, who needs to improve from last year to win over Fox.
Best of the best
Michigan State junior Trae Waynes tops the list for most evaluators. He has everything — size, speed, tackling ability, demeanor — that teams look for in the pass-happy NFL.
But there should be others drafted in the first round with him, including Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson, LSU’s Jalen Collins and Washington’s Marcus Peters.
Fox seemed to have questions about the position when speaking at the NFL annual meetings. But some evaluators consider this to be a deep class.
Florida Atlantic’s D’Joun Smith, Utah’s Eric Rowe, Connecticut’s Byron Jones and Florida State’s P.J. Williams have received plenty of attention from NFL teams.
DRAFT PREVIEW SERIES
Part 1: Quarterbacks — When will the Bears draft Jay Cutler’s successor?