A year ago, Yawin Smallwood was arguably the best player on the Huskies' defense. But as a sophomore, he couldn't leave school for the NFL, but instead watched as linebacker Sio Moore, defensive end Trevardo Williams and cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz all were drafted.
After a solid junior season, Smallwood declared for the draft, but without his former teammates around him, the Huskies' defense slipped and the team managed just three wins. Now, instead of being a high-round selection, the pre-draft scuttlebutt is that Smallwood will likely hear his name called in the fourth or fifth round, mostly, to hear the scouting reports tell it, he struggles in pass coverage. And in today's NFL, a linebacker who can't play on passing downs is a part-time player.
But Smallwood isn't getting hung up on the naysayers. In fact, he's using it as motivation.
"My friends would send me links to things that said I had no coverage skills, that I'm stiff or whatever, that I can't keep up with good athletes and stuff like that," Smallwood said, via the Hartford Courant. "I just laugh at that stuff. I can't remember anyone -- when I was in man-to-man coverage -- I can't remember anyone catching the ball on me. I'll put it like that. I think I'm a great cover linebacker. I can cover man-to-man, get into my zones, all of that stuff. I feel like I'm great at doing that and have a good feel for it."
And Smallwood's agent agrees: "He can go very high," Tom Santanello said. "I know he can go in the second round. In talking to NFL people they like that he was a three-year starter, the way he plays, he's athletic, his character is an A plus and he's very, very, very coachable and that's an important thing. In the NFL, it's a different ballgame, different schemes. What did he have three or four different defensive coordinators at Connecticut? There is some stuff they want to know about him because he was shuffled all over the place in the different schemes. It's not so much the things he can't do. There's different things they want to see."
There's no denying Smallwood was very successful at UConn. And we'll know his NFL fate soon enough; the draft runs from Thursday to Saturday.