Four years ago, Andre Smith got off a plane in Indianapolis as the best left tackle at that year’s NFL combine. The previous season, he was awarded the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s best interior lineman. He’d been named an All-American by every outlet with a printing press or an Internet presence. And come draft time, it was expected that Smith would be one of the first five players off the board.
Then he left.
Before completing any of his workouts, Smith was back on a plane to Alabama, without telling anyone. Later, his explanation was that in switching his representation, he’d lost some time to prepare for the drills. He didn’t feel ready.
This excuse was hardly enough for those involved. He was skewered — for a lack of maturity and a lack of attention to detail. Smith’s pro day in Tuscaloosa didn’t help much, either. The video of his jiggle during the 40-yard dash is still Internet legend. A tumble down hypothetical draft boards began. Smith went from the best tackle in the draft to the consensus no. 3. By March, Mel Kiper had him clear out of the top 10. In botching the “pre-draft process,” Smith had done himself in.
What he’d actually done was nothing. The Bengals drafted Smith sixth overall, and although the difference in guaranteed money between Smith and second overall pick Jason Smith was $12 million, the tumble ended up as more of a slight shift. The thing about offensive tackles is that they don’t have to look like underwear models. A 5.28-second 40-yard dash does not preclude a man from mauling people at the line of scrimmage. For Smith, an entire season of tape was infinitely more valuable than a couple runs through the three-cone drill. And now at the end of his rookie contract, he’s developed into one of the best right tackles in the league (recent legal trouble notwithstanding).