NFL Draft: Q&A with Louisville Safety Hakeem Smith
By Dan Dahlke
Louisville Cardinals safety Hakeem Smith (29) celebrates defending a pass with cornerback Andrew Johnson (15). Howard Smith-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. Throughout the month of February we’ve heard from several talented players, and today we kick off the month of March by hearing from talented, yet underrated, Louisville safety Hakeem Smith.
Smith was a four-year starter at the strong safety position for the Louisville Cardinals and a four-time All-Big East selection. At 6-foot-0 and 185 pounds, Smith is a bit undersized as a strong safety prospect, but he proved at Louisville that he can be a physical defensive back and excel playing up in the box against the run.
At Louisville, Smith finished as one of the top tacklers on the Cardinals’ defense in each of his four seasons as a starter, including leading the team in tackles with 88 in his first year in 2010. Smith is a physical safety who is also a reliable defensive back in coverage.
Many draft analysts, like Rob Rang from NFL Draft Scout, have Smith rated as a day-three pick in the draft, but as you will see in this interview, Smith is ready to contribute to an NFL team regardless of where he’s selected in May.
A smart, savvy safety, like Smith, could be a great value pick for a team like the Packers come May. Here is what the Louisville prospect had to say about his game and possibly playing in Green Bay when I spoke with him over the phone.
Louisville Cardinals safety Hakeem Smith (29). Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Q. With the college season over, what has this whole draft process been like for you? What will things look like for you over the next few months?
HS: It’s been really busy. I went to the college all-star games. I talked to scouts, went to practices, and I’ve just been training. I’m working hard getting ready for pro day. Back in January I participated in the East-West Shrine Bowl. So it’s really just been lots of meetings and hard work and there is still a lot of that stuff to do before the draft.
Q. What was your experience at the East-West Shrine game like? Where you able to prove anything to scouts?
HS: It was pretty cool. It’s was different. There were over 300 scouts watching during the practices throughout the week. It was a bit nerve-wracking, honestly, but not as bad as I thought it would have been. I just tried to go out there and continue to impress the scouts. I wanted to show them my speed and how physical I can be. I wanted to make sure they knew my name when they left.
Q. How would you define your style of play as a safety, and what are some of the strengths of your game?
HS: My strength is getting to the ball. I’m reliable and consistent as a safety. I take pride in being the last man back and not let players get behind me and make plays. I’m also a good open field tackler. I can be physical on the field. I’d say overall I’m a balanced safety. I’m not necessarily a big hitter, but I can play physical and do a little bit of everything at the position.
Q. What makes you unique as a safety?
HS: My wits. I have good on the field awareness. My ability to recognize formations and see things on the field develop makes me unique as a safety. I’m dependable and smart and I believe that’s important to the position.
Louisville Cardinals safety Hakeem Smith (29). Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Q. What part of your game would you still like to improve going into the draft?
HS: I’m always looking to improve. I watch film and self-scout myself a lot, just looking for things to get better at. Right now, I’m looking to improve my ability to play man-to-man coverage. It should help me in the NFL. For teams looking for a safety, the ability to play man-to-man is key. You have to be able to cover a receiver in the slot or coming down the seam, so I’ve just been really working on improving my man coverage skills.
Q. If it were up to you, would you rather drop back in coverage and ballhawk or play near the line of scrimmage and mix it up against the run?
HS: I enjoy playing in the box despite not being the biggest safety. I did it a lot at Louisville. Probably like 80 percent of the time I played in the box in college. I feel like I’m more of a strong safety than a free safety. That’s what I played in college, and I feel I can hold my own against the run and am a good tackler to play well in the box.
Q. Is there an NFL player you try to model your game after or you draw comparisons to?
HS: Probably like a younger Ed Reed. I liked watching him play. He’s just great at making plays on the ball. I also liked watching Brian Dawkins.
Q. Many consider safety a major need for the Packers going into the draft. How would you feel about being drafted by Green Bay?
HS: Ah, man, I’d feel good. I’d be excited. To have the opportunity to play for the Packers would be great. They have great tradition and fans out there. I’d be excited about it. It would be awesome.
September 15, 2012; Louisville, KY USA; Louisville Cardinals safety Hakeem Smith (29) breaks up a pass intended for North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Eric Ebron (85). Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Q. If they did draft you, what kind of player and teammate would they be getting?
HS: I’m a dependable player. Somebody that can be that guy for them in the heat of the moment and play well on a consistent basis. I’m a team-first guy. I’m down to earth and I’d get along with everybody. I’d be a good teammate.
Q. If you played for Green Bay, what would you bring to their defense?
HS: I’m a smaller safety, but I’d bring a lot of excitement and energy. I have a lot of fun on the field. I’d bring that energy on defense that can ignite a big play.
Q. Are you very familiar with Green Bay or the team? Would you mind playing in the cold?
HS: I got family that follows the Packers. I know they’re a really good team. I know about Sam Shields. I liked Charles Woodson when he played there. I know them on defense. I don’t mind playing in the cold. When I played in Cincinnati this year it was like 10 degrees. I’m from Florida and went to high school in Georgia, but I can play in any type of weather.
Q. Who have been the most influential people in your life and have helped you on your journey to the NFL?
HS: My family, especially my mom. She’s a hard worker and strong person. I idolize her for that. She helped me push myself. My sisters too. They looked out for me.
Q. Tell us a little bit more about Hakeem Smith the person. When you’re away from football, what do you like to do in your free time?
HS: I like to draw and play video games. I really like Call of Duty. I like to pretty much just hang out. I’m pretty easy-going, and that’s about it.
Career college stats
2013 – 45 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INTs, 5 PBUs, and a sack
2012 – 73 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 7 PBUs,
2011 – 84 tackles, 4 TFL, INT, 9 PBUs,
2010 – 88 tackles, 6 TFL, PBU, and a sack
Hakeem Smith Highlights
Smith sacks Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova: watch here.
Smith intercepts Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay’ s pass: watch here.
Smith intercepts Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick’s pass: watch here.