Normally, Duke has the drama all wrapped up long before National Signing Day, and collecting everyone’s National Letters of Intent is just a pre-press conference formality.
Not this year. Duke only has 12 commitments, with less than a week to go until the early signing period opens, and, with a half dozen underclassmen deciding to graduate and move on before their eligibility is expired, the Blue Devils have some extra roster spots to fill.
As a result, David Cutcliffe and the rest of the staff are doing some last minute maneuvering to try to wrap up the Class of 2020.
In an ongoing series, we look at some of the storylines still unresolved, long after Duke has usually put a bow on its class. Today, we take a look at a potential Blue Devil linebacker in Ryan Smith.
Smith has flown below the radar for much of his high school career. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Kennesaw, Georgia’s Harrison High is rated a three-star by 247Sports, but he hasn’t received a star rating from Rivals. 247 has him slotted as the No. 1,628 prospect in the class and No. 70 at inside linebacker.
Louisville was the first Power Five program to offer him, and for a long time, the Cardinals were the only Power Five in the game. Duke didn’t offer him until 10 days ago.
The first battle between Louisville and Duke over Smith will be decided this weekend, when he shows up on one of the campuses for an official visit. Both schools were reportedly expecting him for an official visit. The Louisville one appears to have been on the books first, but Duke seemed confident he’d be in Durham. The Blue Devils will have 11 of their 12 commits on their official visits as well, to give a big recruiting push, assuming Smith is there.
Smith was named his region’s defensive player of the year, and, based on his highlights, he seems like a good fit for Duke’s defense, where there’s a grey area between linebackers and safeties.
Smith is linebacker sized, but he’s excellent in coverage and roams from one end of the field to the other with ease. His highlight film opens with him running down field to catch up to and tackle a wide receiver from behind. His speed also allows him to bounce horizontally along the line to run down plays on the sideline.
Smith also shows an excellent football IQ and seems to be able to anticipate where the ball will be. That, combined with his quickness, allows him to get through cracks in the line and into tackle position. Much of his highlight film is dedicated to tackling running backs at the line, much in the way Duke fans will recall Jeremy Cash doing a few years ago. Smith has two inches on Cash, though, and is able to finish tackles high in a way that many safety/linebacker hybrids find difficult. There are few ankle tackles or diving low in Smith’s highlights. He’s got the power to stop backs in their tracks.
Duke has made up a large amount of ground in a very short time. Assuming he shows up for his official visit, the Blue Devils have to like their chances.