Jordan Smith is always striving to be better. Smith, the former University of Alabama at Birmingham EDGE rusher, is eyeing the upcoming NFL draft. And if Smith is selected anytime during the 2021 NFL Draft, he’ll be the first player from UAB drafted since J.J. Nelson and Kennard Backman in 2015, selected in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively.
Smith, along with wide receiver Austin Watkins, are UAB’s most draftable prospects after their successful careers. Smith has been described as a “once in a lifetime” player by UAB linebacker coach Nick Gentry, and in just two seasons with the Blazers has become a more well-rounded player which came to a head Friday during Pro Day.
NFL evaluators had plenty of questions for Smith. How big is he? How tall is he? How fast is he? How athletic is he?
“I feel like it was a good day. Everybody had questions about me. Everybody wanted to see me in person,” Smith said Friday after the day’s drills. “And I feel like I did a good job of showing my talent today and showing my attributes to all the scouts there were here.”
Smith only has two years of Division I tape for scouts and coaches to assess. He started his collegiate career at Florida as a 4-star recruit. Smith didn’t play a single down for the Gators program after redshirting his true freshman year and a credit card fraud scheme, which resulted in a total of nine suspensions for the 2017 season and ultimately a coaching change. Smith was expected to play a key role in Florida’s defense that year, but his time in Gainesville, Florida, quickly came to an end.
He returned to the gridiron at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas. Smith was out of JUCO’s league, recording 77 tackles (including 22.5 for loss), 11 sacks, three pass breakups, and a forced fumble in 2018. His efforts caught the attention of Conference USA foe, Marshall, and UNLV. In December 2018, Smith committed to UAB.
The Blazers gave Smith a second chance as well as the patience and tutelage not often afforded to players on a path of transformation. Gentry, with deep football roots as part of Nick Saban’s first recruiting class, who played at Alabama from 2007-12, helped facilitate Smith’s transformation on the field; while Courtney Upshaw, a former Alabama linebacker from 2008-11 and Super Bowl 47 champion who joined UAB in 2020 as a volunteer coach, gave Smith invaluable lessons. Gentry was Smith’s rock. Upshaw was a confidant for Smith, who is on the cusp of realizing one dream; a dream that’s now just a few weeks away.
In 21 games, Smith totaled 89 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. His combination of size and length can translate directly to the NFL, especially in a base 3-4 defense. Smith notes he’ll be successful there or in a 4-3 defense. His 6-foot-5, 264-pound frame can shore up any edge in the NFL, and he could be an ideal late-round selection for a team needing a developmental rush linebacker; this could be Smith’s most ideal fit at the next level.
Smith has worked to stay agile and quick even with the added weight. He’s added more moves—counters, power moves, and speed moves—to his arsenal. In the same way he faced the opportunity at UAB, Smith is ready to carry his game to the next level. He’s taken every bend in the road, every lesson in stride. Now, the final step is out of his control now as the pre-draft process comes to a close, remembering the sage advice from Upshaw:
“Your first day in the NFL is not your first day being a professional athlete. You’ve been a professional right now.”