On Sunday, defensive end Jacquies Smith recorded three sacks, bringing him to four on the season and securing him atop the NFL's sack list. But the start of Smith's career was anything but spectacular. He went undrafted out of Missouri in 2012 and about one year ago, was cut by his third NFL team - the Buffalo Bills.
So how does a team go about finding a diamond in the rough? Back at the start of training camp, Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel, Jon Robinson, said that Smith caught his eye during last year's Hall of Fame Game (watch the video, beginning at 10:09). His performance, Robinson said, prompted the Buccaneers to claim Smith off of waivers following his release.
"A year ago today is around the time when Jacq Smith played in the Hall of Fame Game with Buffalo," Robinson said. "It's the first game, the Hall of Fame Game is, so we look at that game four or five times because from between (that game) and the (following) Thursday when all those games come in you have a long (time). Once the Thursday games start it's Thursday, Friday and then it's on. We really had a chance to immerse ourselves in that Hall of Fame Game last year and he had some really good rushes and that's where he really piqued our interest."
The Buccaneers and Bills met in Week 3 of the preseason in 2014, and Robinson and the Bucs' scouts got another good, hard look at their future starting defensive end.
"We played those guys and when we played them, based on his performance in the Hall of Fame Game we thought he would give us some fits and we actually blocked him pretty good so we had to go back and we went with our instincts. He's been a good player for us."
Smith was claimed by the Buccaneers on September 10th following the first game of the 2014 season. After a stint in the Canadian Football League and brief appearances with the Dolphins, Jets and Bills, Smith made an immediate impact with the Buccaneers, playing in 15 games and starting seven. He finished the year with 6.5 sacks, the second-most of any Buccaneer.
So far, he's off to a hot start. Since recording his first career sack against the Browns last November, Smith has 10.5 sacks. Only J.J. Watt and Justin Houston have more sacks during that time frame.