Should the Vikings Target Another LSU Defensive Tackle in the 2024 NFL Draft?

Nov 4, 2023; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Kendrick Law (19) is tackled by LSU Tigers defensive tackle Maason Smith (0) and safety Sage Ryan (15) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 42-28. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings don’t have any 2nd or 3rd round selections in the 2024 NFL Draft (as it stands), so their Day 3 selections have emphasized importance.

For that reason, I have decided to produce a few write-ups highlighting some of my personal favorite sleeper picks. Today, I’ve placed the spotlight upon Maason Smith, an interior defensive lineman out of LSU.

Another LSU Defensive Tackle for the Vikings?

LSU Defensive Tackle
Sep 4, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Louisiana State Tigers defensive tackle Maason Smith (0) celebrates a play during the first half against the Florida State Seminoles at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

While the spotlight is on Smith, I did have to zoom it out because Smith is a large individual. The former five-star prospect out of Terrebonne High School in his native Houma, Louisiana, stands at 6’5 and weighs a little over 300 pounds. He also possesses 35-inch arms, the second longest amongst defensive tackles at this year’s Combine, and an almost 85-inch wingspan, the longest measurement of DT’s at the Combine. He would also go on to post an official 5.01 40-yard-dash, which is just fine for an interior defensive lineman.

Smith would even get a feature on The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List”, where Feldman would describe him as “one of the most gifted players in college football’, citing his clocked top-speed of 19 miles-per-hour and max standing vertical of 11 feet.

The defensive tackle emerged immediately onto the scene in his true-freshman year of 2021. He would play in nine games and put up 19 tackles with 5 for a loss, as well as 4 sacks. These aren’t the most breath-taking numbers, but this is where the eye-test holds value, and he passed it with flying colors. He flashed elite ability to penetrate into the offensive backfield and disrupt plays at an above-average rate. 

His 2022 campaign unfortunately proved to be nowhere near as fruitful as he tore an ACL in the opening quarter of the season against Florida State after seeing only 8 snaps. To salt the wound, he wasn’t injured in-play; he was injured after coming down and colliding awkwardly with an FSU player after jumping up in celebration after a big defensive play.

Oct 14, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; LSU Tigers defensive tackle Maason Smith (0) pressures Auburn Tigers quarterback Payton Thorne (1) during the second quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

Smith would return in 2023, producing 28 tackles including 4.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He would also put up his career best PFF tackling and run defense grades with an 82.0 and 74.8 respectively. This is solid production given the number of games he appeared in, however, it does not satisfy the standard that his freshman year set for his expectations.

As you can gather, durability issues are a main detriment on Smith’s profile when it comes to scouting him as an NFL prospect, among others. Digging deeper into his “weaknesses”, Smith’s height makes his high pad-level a natural one. At his stature, it could make it easy for NFL interior offensive linemen to get under his pads and control him at the point of contact. His play recognition also requires refinement, as his game against the run lacks consistency.

The only time Smith posted a season-long PFF run defense grade of greater than 56.7 was in 2022, where he only had 5 run defense snaps of a sample size. In fairness, however, play recognition on-the-fly is a work-in-progress for any defensive rookie prospect, and a Brian Flores defense would lean more toward pass rushing prowess to trade off for the lack of run support, especially given Harrison Phillips is a solid run defender.

Looking at the stuff that gets you excited, Smith possesses a very quick first step and a natural instinct to make contact at the line first. He also displays a key trait that Brian Flores loves in his players: versatility. You could line Smith up on the interior, inside-edge, or maybe even move him out to the edge to have him rush from outside.

Feb 29, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State defensive lineman Maason Smith (DL24) works out during the 2024 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Smith’s freakish quickness and brute strength could be the ultimate swiss-army knife that the Vikings defensive line could afford to take a flier on after the departure of Danielle Hunter. That versatility also benefits from his pure lateral quickness and agility, and his pass-rush bag that has plenty of room to expand.

Now, it is a total possibility that Smith doesn’t make it to Day 3 of the draft. It is plenty plausible that there is a team that loves his natural gifts and ability and are willing to gamble on his flashes enough to spend on the back-end of Round 3 on him. Most likely, though, he will be a Day 3 selection, and whichever team selects him will be absolutely ecstatic to get to work with him, especially their defensive line coach. 

And hey, why not reunite him with Jaquelin Roy, Kwesi?

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via NFL Draft Buzz and Pro Football Focus.