A look at the newest member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Ryan Smith has found a believer in his talents.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Smith, the North Carolina Central cornerback, with their fourth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on Saturday. After finding small-school gold last year with Hobart guard Ali Marpet, the Buccaneers hope for the same from Smith, the 108th overall selection, and he's eager to prove any remaining doubters wrong.
"I do feel like a lot of schools missed out on me," said Smith, whose only scholarship offer came from NCCU after he had limited exposure on the prep level. "Being that I only played one year of high school football, a lot of people doubted me. A lot of people didn't want to take a chance on me. It still happens to this day – people doubt me just because of the school I played at and [don't recognize] my talent. But everything happens for a reason and I'm just blessed to be in this position."
That position is an opportunity to contribute right away. The Buccaneers came into the 2016 draft with a plan to restock a defense that struggled in 2015, and they've used three of their first four selections on that side of the ball. Smith is the second cornerback added to that squad, following first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves of Florida. The Bucs also addressed their pass rush early in the second round with Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence before giving the special teams a prize in Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo.
Smith (6-0, 190) played four seasons at North Carolina Central and finished as the school's all-time leader in solo tackles (168) and kickoff return average (28.1). That latter statistic had to intrigue the Buccaneers, who have a wide-open competition for both of their return jobs after the departure of Bobby Rainey. Even if Smith doesn't win that role, he's confident he can make a difference right away on special teams.
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"I think I can help the team out a lot," he said. "When I'm out there, it's indescribable. I did special teams all my life, in college, and I made plays. I'm going to continue to do the same thing at the next level. I'm going to give it my all, so I know for a fact I'm going to be a major part for this team. I'm going to do everything I can to help them."
Smith played in a total of 45 collegiate games, with 42 starts, and racked up seven interceptions and 24 passes defensed. He was a second-team all-MEAC choice as both a cornerback and a kick returner in his senior campaign. He'll get a chance to compete for a significant role in a Buccaneer secondary that is looking for vast improvement after allowing a 70% completion rate in 2015. In addition to Hargreaves, Smith will join a cornerback unit that also includes prized free agent acquisition Brent Grimes and 2015 holdovers Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Jude Adjei-Barimah.
The Buccaneers have three more picks to make in the 2016 draft, including one fifth-rounder (#148) overall and a pair of sixth-rounders (183 and 197). They do not currently own a selection in the seventh round.