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Baylor Football

K.J. Smith's stock continues to rise with move back to defensive end

May 22, 2017


As a Baylor student, I see players on campus on a daily basis. They usually tend to themselves like the rest of us but there are a few that clearly stand out: K.J. Smith is one of those few.

Now, this isn’t some story about something special he did, but seeing him in U.S. History three times a week his sophomore season gave a better perspective of what he brought to the team. He sat quietly right behind me but when he spoke, it was meaningful and productive. Even just listening, his presence was clearly defined much like his past few seasons with the Bears as one of the most well-rounded defenders on the roster.

Though he stands just over 6-foot, he’s a clear hulk. That shows through the TV and even from the stands in McLane but being up close in the flesh give another point of view of what he could accomplish under the right system.

Smith came to Baylor as a highly touted defensive end in 2013, posting 21 sacks his senior season at Frisco Centennial. That talent on the edge was redshirted his first season in Waco, learning behind the likes of Jamal Palmer and Chris McAllister.

Come Smith’s first year in pads, he puts together 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was quickly living up to his hype, mounting anticipation for the 2015 season. Smith’s production took a nosedive, failing to record a single sack and had half as many tackles for loss.

But the writing might have been on the wall, as 4.5 of his sacks and six tackles for loss came against Baylor’s weak non-conference schedule and Big 12 basement-dweller Kansas. Smith managed just three starts in 12 games that season, struggling to maintain a presence outside.

Jump to 2016. Amid the fallout and sudden coaching change, Smith emerged as one of the conference’s top all-around defenders in the box. In 13 games as a starter, Smith registered 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks, this time showing up even under the brightest lights.

Smith heads into 2017 with a sack and tackles for loss in five of the last six games. He even had a key sack against Boise State in the Cactus Bowl that set the Bears up to take a 31-6 lead in the third quarter.

However, it’s not just that he was able to show up more consistently and in bigger moments that makes Smith an exciting defender this year, it’s where he performed in the trenches.

Like that sack against Boise, Smith was often asked to rush from the inside with Baylor lined up in a 3-4. With Andrew Billing in the NFL a year early, Baylor was limited across the line and needed Smith to move inside more often than years before.

Getting up close with him the year prior, it was a welcomed move considering his obvious leverage and strength advantages need to fight from the inside.

Now the real fun begins with Matt Rule bringing a 4-3 system and intends to use Smith on the edge.

As he showed during his high school days and his eight freshman starts, he’s best used sitting on the edge. As long as his fingers are in the ground, he’s ready to go but battling with tight ends and tackles is his home. Should Rhule and Phil Snow’s Okie package with five linemen, he should flourish even more and can be allowed to move inside when needed without sacrificing as much. If he can take down seven QBs in a less than ideal situation, his impact this season should continue to rise.

As the only senior in the front four, Smith’s experience playing across the entire line in a variety of systems has Smith’s season — and in turn, Baylor — looking up.

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K.J. Smith's stock continues to rise with move back to defensive end

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