Defensive end Elerson Smith is 6’6” tall, an ideal height for playing basketball, a sport that has supposedly helped many football players with their agility, right?
So you’d think, but for the now-former Northern Iowa defender turned newly minted Giants fourth-round draft pick, basketball never really was his game.
Not that it matters to the Giants, who are more interested in having Elerson rush the passer than completing layups and three-pointers. Smith, one of the hidden gems in the 2021 pass-rushing class, first began to make waves as a serious contender for a Day 3 draft status when he was part of a strong defensive front at this past year’s Senior Bowl.
Smith was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty on a pass rush attempt. Not to be deterred, one of his highlight plays was forcing a fourth-down when he dropped former Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers for a four-yard loss.
Game performance aside, Elerson flashed during the week of practices, drawing the attention of the Giants where he said he had “a few meetings” with the New York Giants.
“It was huge,” Elerson said of his Senior Bowl experience. “I think at that point, it was the only film I had where I played around 260. All my other film I was around 240 or 235.
"I just wanted to show teams that I could play with the new weight and to show them I was working hard on my body and my game and that I am able to contribute to an NFL team at this point. It was an important week because I didn't have the film like everyone else had from the 2020 season.”
Elerson, who didn’t play last season after the football program was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, admitted that he thought about transferring to the point where he entered the transfer portal just days after UNI’s season was canceled. But those plans ended up not coming to fruition because the FBS canceled pr postponed seasons which further cast other programs into the unknown.
Instead, Elerson, who upon initially arriving at UNI was rail-thin at 204 pounds. Through the years, he filled out his frame to 245 pounds. He decided to declare for the draft and focus his training to impress teams during the Senior Bowl and his pro day. Always one to embrace hard work, Elerson put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears behind the scene to ensure that his path to the NFL remained on schedule.
“I've had to take advantage of each day early on when I wasn't getting a lot of acknowledgement or recognition,” he told reporters on a video conference call. “I was just kind of working in the dark and just making sure that I was getting the most out of every day. It has been a whirlwind the past few months.”
That process has prepared him for the next level, one in which he’ll probably be a situational pass rusher while he works to refine his game and perhaps even add some more strength and bulk to better hold up against the bigger offensive linemen he’ll face.
“I'm excited to kind of take that same approach when I get to New York - just making sure that I'm getting better everyday and not letting days get by where I'm not getting better because if you're not getting better, you're getting worse,” he said.
Although Elerson doesn’t have a lot of college game film out there, he made sure to treat every moment on the gridiron, be it during a game or practice, like it was showtime.
“That's what I needed to get better at, my first few years of college, I started one year. Then, I was in a reserve pass rush role my sophomore year,” he said. “I just like to make the most of my opportunities and I was able to do that my junior year. I think that's a result of me treating those first few years like those were playing seasons for me or preparing for every game throughout those seasons, so I was ready at that point.”
Like the rest of his rookie teammates, Elerson will soon find out what specific path they will be put on to get snaps with the Giants. Still, as far as the native of Minnesota is concerned, he’s hoping to be able to continue incorporating some of the moves that helped get him to the NFL.
“I love a good bull rush,” he said with a smile. “I think my get-off is what starts all my pass rush moves. I love driving offensive linemen off the jump--get their feet moving, and get them scared of my length and my get-off.
“From there, depending on what the offensive line is giving me, it's going to be a bull rush or I'm going to take the edger or coming underneath. I love pass rushing, though. I have a lot of fun doing it.”
The Giants hope he has even more fun with it once he takes the field for them.