Rookie edge rusher Jordan Smith became a long-term project for Jaguars from 2021 draft

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Jordan Smith's rookie grade with the Jaguars in 2021 can only be listed as "incomplete."

With the exception of wide receiver Jalen Camp, the sixth-round pick who was cut at the end of training camp, no other Jaguars rookie got on the field less than Smith, an edge rusher from Alabama-Birmingham by way of the University of Florida, with another stop at Butler Community College.

Former coach Urban Meyer claimed up to the week he was fired that it was because the team was trying to build Smith's 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame up to NFL standards.

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"He was way behind," Meyer said on Dec. 19. "He was not ready to contribute for a couple months, just physically."

But teams don't normally trade up nine spots during a given round in the NFL draft for a long-term project, which is what the Jaguars did in the fourth round to pluck Smith, a native of Lithonia, Ga.

At the time, Meyer raved about getting a steal in Smith, who had 23.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles in two seasons at UAB.

No less optimistic was Smith, who declared himself "the best pass rusher in this draft."

Jordan Smith, rushing against Cleveland tackle Greg Senat, had nine tackles in three preseason games.
Jordan Smith, rushing against Cleveland tackle Greg Senat, had nine tackles in three preseason games.

Smith was active for only the final two regular-season games, with a combined 21 defensive plays from scrimmage and 11 special-teams plays. His only statistics were two special-teams tackles (which still drew the notice of defensive coordinator Joe Cullen). Smith had less than half of the number of scrimmage plays as defensive tackle Jay Tufele (54).

Despite his speed and a few flashes in training camp, Smith languished on the inactive list for 14 weeks, spent one week on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list, then finally saw his first action against New England, getting in for 20 plays on a defense that was wracked with injuries and the COVID list.

The following week, in the Jaguars' season-ending victory over Indianapolis, Smith got exactly one defensive play from scrimmage and eight special-teams snaps.

Jaguars rookie edge rusher Jordan Smith (92) was all smiles during training camp. But a crowded depth chart and the need to get bigger and stronger kept him inactive for the first 14 weeks of the season.
Jaguars rookie edge rusher Jordan Smith (92) was all smiles during training camp. But a crowded depth chart and the need to get bigger and stronger kept him inactive for the first 14 weeks of the season.

Smith seemed to show enough in the three preseason games. He had nine total tackles, one for lost yardage, knocked down a pass and had one quarterback hit.

But it took him until after New Year's Day to get his first snap during a regular-season game.

Smith had enough pent-up energy on the opening kickoff, where he played on the coverage team, to draw praise from Cullen.

"He really impressed me on the first kickoff ... ran down and made the tackle," Cullen said. "He got some valuable playing time and that impressed me about him.”

Cullen counseled patience with Smith, which may or may not translate to the next coaching regime — especially with the Jaguars having the top overall draft pick and two edge rushers available, Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Jaguars rookie Jordan Smith (22) had 12.5 sacks in two seasons at Alabama-Birmingham.
Jaguars rookie Jordan Smith (22) had 12.5 sacks in two seasons at Alabama-Birmingham.

"We drafted [Ravers OLB] Jaylon Ferguson who broke [former Ravens OLB] Terrell Suggs record in sacks [in college]," Cullen said of his time in Baltimore. "He didn’t get a hat for seven games. It took guys to get hurt and then we had to start him. He had growing pains, then he went back, and we had other guys and he didn’t get a hat again. It’s just a matter of [Smith] getting stronger, having a full season of an offseason, and getting to understand and know the scheme."

Meyer also alluded to the Jaguars' depth chart at outside linebacker, with Josh Allen and Jihad Ward on one side and K'Lavon Chaisson and Lerentee McCray on the other. But two days before he was fired, Meyer was giving Smith high praise for his work ethic in practice and in the weight room.

“He’s getting so much bigger and stronger," Meyer said. "He came in way below the body weight we wanted him at and it’s a credit to him. I think he’s lifting still four days a week. You can see him working his trade, staying after practice with [Defensive Line Coach] Tosh [Lupoi] and [Assistant Defensive Line Coach] Sterling [Lucas].”

But will a new coach want to continue the Jordan Smith Project — or just snatch Hutchinson or Thibodeaux?

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jaguars' Jordan Smith inactive until New Year's in rookie season

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