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2023 Cowboys scouting report: Michigan iDL Mazi Smith

The Cowboy need some beef in the trenches on defense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cowboys draft prospects scouting reports for the 2023 NFL Draft.

Name: Mazi Smith
Position: iDL
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 337 pounds

Mazi Smith Career Stats, courtesy of Sports Reference

Mazi Smith is a hometown hero who just finished out a terrific career at Michigan. As a four-star prospect out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Smith opted to stay home and play for the Wolverines despite offers from Georgia, Alabama, and more. He played an integral role in the Wolverines becoming defensive juggernauts, and he’s gotten better each season.

Smith now prepares to enter the draft after his best year yet, but there will be plenty of questions. Michigan used him almost exclusively as a two-gapping nose tackle, not unlike Jordan Davis of Georgia. Davis was picked 13th overall, which was considered a bit of a surprise for a player who wasn’t considered much of a pass rusher. The same challenge will be present for Smith, who is likely pushing for a late-first round selection at this point.

For the Cowboys, that puts him right into their range. As great as the Cowboys defense has been under Dan Quinn, the interior of the defensive line has been consistently underwhelming, even with occasional flashes here and there. Could Smith help change that narrative?

Burst: For his size, Smith comes off the line of scrimmage really well. Much of his time at Michigan was working in a read-and-react role, which didn’t allow much for him to pin his ears back and really explode upfield, but he appears to have the burst to win that way if asked to do so. The combine will answer more questions here, too.

Footwork: Smith is very methodical with his feet, allowing him to gain leverage against even the best offensive linemen he goes up against. He keeps his feet moving too, which only makes it easier to use all of the power he has pent up in his massive frame.

Hand Technique: He is a mammoth of a man, and that’s evident in the way he uses his hands. Smith delivers a powerful punch and has a great sense of how to use it to drive linemen backwards. He’s not the most active with his hands, but some of that is because he causes so much disruption with his initial punch. It’s a good problem to have.

Pass Rush Moves: Smith didn’t have a ton of true pass rush reps at Michigan, which complicates his profile. Even on true pass plays, he was often taking on double teams because of his alignment. Still, when Smith did get to rush the passer, he showed promise. He is at his best when overpowering a lineman as a pass rusher, which happens frequently. He doesn’t have the most refined toolkit of pass rush moves, but again, that stems from his limited use in this facet of the game. The potential is there, though.

Lateral Agility: Going along with his methodical footwork, Smith is a fluid mover along the line of scrimmage when working laterally. With so much two-gap work, he had to be good in this area and he was. It helped him become an elite run defender.

Athleticism: When you weigh nearly 340 pounds, athleticism becomes relative. Smith isn’t likely to place near the top of the positional leaderboards at the combine, but that’s not the expectation for him either. He plays with adequate functional athleticism, never looking out of place on the field.

Run Defense: He is an elite run defender. No interior defender in this draft class had more run stops this year than Smith, and he was sixth in the nation overall. He has the power, lateral agility, and processing ability to disrupt any offense’s running game with consistency. It’s his calling card, and for good reason.

Processing: Smith was in a position to show off his processing skills, frequently having to two-gap and read the backfield before reacting. It helps that Smith was able to anchor as well as he did, but he also flashed clean eyes that were able to diagnose and attack quickly.

Intangibles: He played his entire career at Michigan, getting markedly better each year. In his final season, he was named a team captain. Smith is a relentless worker who leads by example, something that the Wolverines staff often raved about. He adds more than just a talented player to an NFL locker room, as is the kind of person teams love to have for the sake of culture.

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