IBM Can Wait: Smith-Williams Ready to Take His Shot With Redskins

Brett Friedlander

James Smith-Williams has a degree in business supply chain management from NC State and a standing job offer from IBM whenever he's ready.

But he's not ready yet. 

It's not that he's adverse to entering the business world, especially in a field as interesting as robotic automation. He just loves playing football too much to give it up voluntarily.

After being taken by the Washington Redskins in the seventh round of the NFL draft on Saturday, the former Wolfpack defensive end have been given an opportunity to keep playing it awhile longer.

“Yeah, I mean I just love it," Smith-Williams said in a teleconference shortly after his selection. "I think that’s the easiest explanation I can give you.

"I just really love playing football. I love the competitiveness of it. Obviously, I’m thankful for IBM and what they offered me off the field, in that regard. My true love is football, so it’s a blessing to be able to keep playing.”

Smith-Williams' spot on the Redskins' roster is anything but guaranteed. In fact, as the 229th of 255 players selected in the three-day draft, he's still a longshot just to make it out of training camp.

But at least he has the chance. And he's determined to be as ready to make the most of it as soon as life starts to get back to normal, or at least something resembling normal, once the coronavirus crisis has passed and sports start back up.

Whenever that might be.

In the meantime he's been staying in shape by working out at a local park with former State linebacker Arius Moore -- at an acceptable social distance, of course -- and lifting weights at home.

“I’d say the biggest thing is just being in shape with everything going on right now, the craziness," the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Raleigh native said. "So without a doubt, I just look forward to competing. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I know there are a lot of talented guys, a lot of great athletes, so it’s exciting to throw my name in that mix. We’ll hopefully win some games, a lot of games.”

One thing Smith-Williams has going for him is that he'll be back in a traditional 4-3 defensive scheme with the Redskins after playing in the less-natural three-man front State was forced to use because of attrition in 2019.

"I was a little out of position last year in college with the head-up technique, but now I’ll be back to the edges, so I’m excited for that," he said. “For me, it gives me a chance to attack.

"I’m a guy used to getting up the field, using my speed on tackles, speed-to-power hand usage, stuff like that. Just giving me a chance to attack the edge, be head-up, taking on a lot more double teams to kind of beat you up a little bit more.”

Smith-Williams' physical ability has never been in question.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he put on an impressive display of speed, strength and agility by finishing in the top 10 among defensive linemen in the bench press (28 reps of 225 pounds), broad jump (10 feet, three inches), three-cone run (7.35 seconds) and vertical jump (32.0 inches).

His 40-yard dash time of 4.61 seconds was the fastest among players in the 250-275 pound range,

The knock against him is his durability. Or lack thereof. Not only did he miss five games last season because of a series of injuries, but he also suffered season-ending maladies as both a freshman and redshirt freshman.

Rather than looking at his physical history as a negative, he said those injuries have only deepened his resolve to stay on the field and away from the business world as long as possible.

“You know, I had the one major ankle surgery in 2016," he said. "For me, it just allowed me to get the appreciation for the game. You kind of understand taking care of your body and what that entails.”