Offensive line can be the toughest position to recruit out of high school because coaches never know how much a player will grow in college, both physically and mentally. Heading into the NFL, Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith has a lot of room still to grow, and that’s a good thing.
He’s one of the youngest players in this draft, having just turned 21 this month, and he’s played on offense for only five years. But the 6-foot-4, 324-pound Smith’s potential is why the Dallas Cowboys drafted him with the 24th pick in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday.
He’s powerful and aggressive. Pro Football Focus gave him a 93.9 run-blocking grade in 2021, the highest ever for an American Athletic Conference offensive tackle. He also committed 12 holding penalties, as his hands and fundamentals need work. But all the physical tools are there.
“He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever been around, offensive line-wise,” Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery said. “His athleticism gets overlooked a little bit. He needs to clean up some technical things, I think every NFL team would say that. But he’s so strong and athletic that he can be out of position and should get beat, but he ends up back right just because he can physically move people. He brings his hips to a block as good as anybody we’ve been around. That’s going to pay dividends at the next level.”
Smith played four games but redshirted his first year at Tulsa, then earned Freshman All-America honors in 2020 and second-team All-AAC honors in 2021, leaving school with two years of eligibility remaining. The raw ability is there, and it’s up to the Cowboys to craft it.
Dane Brugler on Tyler Smith (No. 6 OT, No. 50 overall prospect in The Beast)
With his size, movement skills and physical brand of football, Smith is the type of young talent ideal for drafting and developing at the right price. However, he relies too much on his aggression, and his chaotic timing and technique lead to balance issues. Overall, Smith is incredibly raw, but he has the play strength and physical traits to get significantly better with technical and mental development. There is a sizable gap between where he is now and his ceiling as a potential NFL starter and will require a patient coaching staff ready for a project.
Top college highlight
Montgomery remembers a specific play against Cincinnati in the 2020 AAC championship game. It wasn’t a consequential play, but it highlighted Smith’s aggression.
“We’re driving the ball down, and he gets his helmet ripped off by a guy,” the coach said. “The next play, the poor young man that had to line up in front of him, everything’s legal, but he locks on, he starts driving his feet and just plants the guy in the ground. I mean, one of the most vicious type of blocks you’ve ever seen. The kid couldn’t do anything about it. You know Cincinnati’s got good players. What Tyler did right there was just freakishly strong and aggressive. That just shows you what he can do and will do as he continues to develop.”
What you may have missed
Smith was raised by a single mother with his brother, and a leg issue after his junior year of high school kept him under the radar in recruiting. He was third-team all-state in Texas as a junior — his first year playing offensive line — but surgery before his senior year kept some teams away. In the 247Sports Composite, he wasn’t even ranked as a top-300 player in Texas in his recruiting class.
“His mom is a great lady that’s worked for the school district and multiple other jobs,” Montgomery said. “Finding their way through that, Tyler dealing with the injury as a junior, finding his way back, he realized football could be an avenue to get his school paid for. He didn’t understand how good he really was and what he could do. Then all of a sudden, the transformation happens and he realized he could not only play this game, but play at the next level and change his life, change his mom’s life. Now that dream is becoming a reality for him.”
Smith arrived at Tulsa around 6-4, 310 pounds. He added weight and got taller, but he also shed the bad weight.
“When he first got there, there was a kind of baby fat on him. It wasn’t all great weight,” Montgomery said. “He’s now weighing 330, but he looks 290. He doesn’t have a belly on him, a slimmed-up 330 if you can say that. He can bend, he can move and run. What he did in the weight room, from a drill standpoint, has changed his body style.”
(Picture: Mary Holt/USA Today)