Seven months ago as the team prepared for the 2018 season I wrote about the Buccaneers Iron Man, Donovan Smith. The 2018 season was a big one for Smith who now will be entering free agency for the first time. Little has changed over the last 7 months for the left tackle. Smith continued his Iron Man ways, starting every single game for the Buccaneers for the 4th straight year. Before getting into whether or not the Buccaneers should bring back Smith, let’s take a look at what transpired this past season.
As a unit, the pass blocking work that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line put it graded out around the middle of the pack in the NFL (15th as a pass protecting unit according to Football Outsiders, surrendering 41 sacks combined). For some reference to Donovan Smith himself, let’s take a look at some progression using numbers. Below you will see that as of October 10th 2018 (4 games into the season) and things were not off to a very good start for the free agent to be. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that Smith was on pace to give up more pressures than the prior season.
2015: 54 total pressures allowed
2016: 57 total pressures allowed
2017: 42 total pressures allowed
2018: 12 total pressures allowed so far this season. https://t.co/9xNPxoHi9j
— PFF TB Buccaneers (@PFF_Buccaneers) October 10, 2018
Alas, the above was simply a snapshot of what had transpired through 4 games of the season. In those 4 games there were a total of 158 drop backs (Ryan Fitzpatrick/136, Jameis Winston/22) which comes out to 7.6% of the time that a Buccaneer QB dropped back to pass, Smith was giving up some pressure. In 2017 Tampa Bay QB’s dropped back to pass 575 times and Smith gave up a pressure 42 times telling us Smith gave up a pressure 7.3% of the time. 12 in 4 games sounds ugly but truth be told, it’s who Donovan Smith has been as a pass blocker. Stretch out to week 14 and Smith had given up 39 pressures on 552 drop backs, good for a 7.1% clip which was an improvement as a whole compared to the seasons start.
Has Donovan Smith improved each year? Yes. From strictly a grading standpoint using Pro Football Reference as the grading system, Donovan Smith has steadily improved and actually graded out with a significant jump in rating for 2018. Smith has grown from a 42.8 as a rookie to a 51.5 as 2017 wrapped up. Looking back at his 2018 and PFF graded Smith out as a 66.0 overall which is quite the jump. In comparison to other free agent tackles, Smith graded out 5th best. The listing can be found below from Pro Football Focus.
As a fan that watches Smith week in and week out, it makes sense to be frustrated. You see the questionable effort from time to time. You see the inability to get push and remain disciplined in key situations. You watch and question things that your eyes are telling you shouldn’t be happening. What you don’t do or know is what the responsibilities on each play are. What you don’t know is how the unit is being coached and how they are taught and disciplined. What we do know, for what credibility you give PFF ratings, is that Donovan Smith is still growing and he made a jump this past season.
Who is Donovan Smith? We still may not know. Bruce Arians and his all-star staff have been brought in and many fans are pointing to ways he can fix Jameis Winston. Winston has had far lower lows than Donovan Smith through his tenure here in Tampa. Why isn’t Donovan Smith being given the same confidence that a new staff can further inject life into his own personal growth as a player? Maybe Bruce Arians can coach up some more consistency out of him. For every reason fans and media have given for Arians coming in to help Winston, why wouldn’t we believe he could do the same to a player that has played more games than Jameis under what many have considered to be lackluster coaching? The options out there right now are thin in free agency. Bringing in another tackle with similar to slightly better results will almost assuredly cost more than bringing back Smith and you’re relying on a new body to come onto the team and bring instant quality snaps… again. Looking at you Ryan Jensen. Looking at you Anthony Collins. Good, quality offensive tackles simply don’t hit the market without reason. Remember that Buccaneer fans. The draft isn’t a sure thing and forget about talking about the player developing, I’m simply talking about actually getting the opportunity to pick the player you want. What will Tampa Bay Buccaneer general manager Jason Licht do? I’m not too sure, but I am sure he should strongly consider getting Donovan Smith locked back up for at least the short term future.