NFL Draft: Q&A with UConn Linebacker Yawin Smallwood
By Dan Dahlke
Connecticut Huskies linebacker Yawin Smallwood (33) forces the fumble as he sacks Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98). David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
With the 2014 NFL Draft only a few months away, we reached out to some of the draft prospects we believe the Green Bay Packers could target in May. We’ve already heard from Clemson’s Brandon Thomas earlier in the week, and today, we hear from one of the more intriguing linebacker prospects in the draft, UConn’s Yawin Smallwood.
Smallwood was a three-year starter at middle linebacker in the Huskies’ defense. He led his team in tackles in both 2012 and 2013, going well over the 100 tackle mark in each season, and led UConn in sacks last season with four.
Smallwood also earned All-American Athletic Conference First Team and First-Team Big East honors while playing with the Huskies, and was a Butkis Award semifinalist as a junior in 2013.
Smallwood was not only a tackling machine at UConn, hitting the double-digit tackle mark in six games in 2013, but he also showed his versatility as a linebacker by excelling in both pass coverage and as a blitzer generating quarterback pressure.
Many draft analysts, like Rob Rang from NFL Draft Scout, have Smallwood ranked as their second-best inside linebacker in this year’s draft class, positioned only behind Alabama’s C.J. Mosley. Many also believe Smallwood could go as early as the second round come May.
We wanted to learn more about Smallwood because he is a player the Packers could target in the draft, so we reached out to him and he was gracious enough to answer our questions.
Q. You decided to forego your senior season and enter the draft this year. Many draft experts already rank you as one of the top inside linebackers in this year’s draft class. What has this whole experience been like for you so far, and what do you think the next four months will look like for you as you prepare for the draft in May?
YS: It has been a great experience. I am grateful for the opportunity I had at UConn. It has helped develop me as a player and a person. The next four months will be work. Hard work. I am dedicated to be the best I can be.
Connecticut Huskies linebacker Yawin Smallwood (33). Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Q. For those of us who haven’t had a chance to see you play, how would you describe your style of play? Is there a specific player in the NFL that you model your game after?
YS: I don’t model my game after anyone. I go out there to be the best I can be and help my team win. As for linebackers in the NFL, I do admire Jerod Mayo and Navarro Bowman.
Q. Watching you play, you seem like a guy that can do it all at the position, whether it be dropping back in coverage, blitzing the quarterback, or playing against the run. Do you take pride in being a versatile inside linebacker?
YS: I consider myself a linebacker, and sometimes just a defensive player, LOL. I don’t want to limit myself as playing the inside only. The way the game is evolving I have to move like a defensive back and cover the athletic tight ends. I also have to be strong enough to shed blockers and make plays at the goal line.
Q. Inside linebackers are asked to do a lot on the field these days. Not only are you expected to make plays on the field, but often, you’re asked to call plays, make audibles, and really have a great grasp on the playbook. How do you feel you’ll handle these responsibilities at the next level?
YS: I will work as hard as I can to do whatever my coaches ask of me and will be able to handle the responsibilities the coaches ask of me. My playbook will be my best friend!
Sep 21, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies linebacker Yawin Smallwood (33) tackles Michigan Wolverines running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (28) in the second half at Rentschler Field. Michigan Wolverines defeated the Connecticut Huskies 24-21. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Q. In your opinion, what is your most underrated attribute as a linebacker? Is there a part of your game that you’d like to still work on improving going into the draft?
YS: I am always looking to improve my entire game. I don’t know what would be underrated, but I am looking forward to my professional career where I can learn from some of the top defensive coaches and immerse myself in football as much as possible.
Q. If the Packers draft you in May, what kind of player would they be getting and what would you bring to their defense?
YS: I would bring a player whose number one goal is to win the Super Bowl. They would be getting a teammate who would become part of the Packers family and contribute to the great tradition Green Bay has had in the past.
Q. How would you feel about playing in Green Bay? Do you know much about the city or team? Would it be a bit surreal playing next to players like Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk?
YS: I know they have a good football history. From watching the games and ESPN, I can tell they have very passionate fans, especially the cheeseheads, LOL. Playing next to them would be an honor and I feel we would have the best linebackers in the NFL.
Q. Did you have a specific team or player you rooted for growing up? Were there any players you watched that inspired you to become a football player?
YS: I’m from Massachusetts, so I am a Patriots fan. I developed my love from stepping on the field and enjoying the game of football.
Connecticut Huskies linebacker Yawin Smallwood (33). Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Q. Tell us a little more about yourself. Where did you grow up, and who have been influential in your life and have helped you get to this point?
YS: I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. My mom and my brothers have guided and helped me and been my support group at games.
Q. When you’re away from football, what do you like to do in your free time?
YS: Honestly, I love football and love the Patriots, so I am always following what they do. I am also a big Boston Celtics fan. Since I’ve been in Boca training for the draft, I’ve had a chance to try some new restaurants and some new food.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like Packers fans to know about you?
YS: My goal is to win the Super Bowl my rookie year.
Career college stats
2013 – 118 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 9 PBUs, 2 FF, INT return for TD
2012 – 120 tackles, 15 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 PBUs, 2 FF,
2011 – 94 tackles, 2.5 TFL, .5 sack, 3 PBUs, FF, INT
Film on Yawin Smallwood
Yawin Smallwood UConn Intro
Yawin Smallwood against Michigan: 13 tackles, 2 TFL, a sack and forced fumble
Yawin Smallwood against Maryland: 14 tackles and a pass breakup
Watch more film on Yawin Smallwood at draftbreakdown.com.