"His pass rush is not fully developed, but he has the kind of athleticism that can't be taught." That's the kind of thing you hear about Mazi Smith in explanations of why he's mocked to the Steelers in the 2nd round, both at 49 and as high as 32. It's also a very very kind way of saying that Smith never actually sacked a QB all by himself in 30 college games (and only had 6 TFL).
For comparison, Isaiah Loudermilk (nobody's definition of a high 2nd round pick) had 12 TFL and 8 sacks in 31 college games. I realize Loudermilk is a DE, not a NT, but he's a familiar name. Looking at Smith's fellow NT prospects in this draft shows the same thing. Siaki Ika, Keeanu Benton, Cameron Young, Byron Young, Keondre Coburn, and Gervon Dexter all made as many or more plays in the backfield in a single season than Smith did in his entire college career.
College production is hardly the be all and end all, but it's a red flag when a guy leaves the stat sheet that empty. Smith has a significant number of total tackles, and that's great but he's "winning" battles on his own side of the LOS rather than taking the fight into opponents' territory. Anybody want a NT who is great at tackling RB's for a 4 yard gain?Smith's lack of impact plays is undeniably a red flag, and you have to be able to put that in context.
There are guys you draft who won't be as dominant in the pros as they were in college, but will still be very good.
Smith didn't dominate in college so he's clearly not in this category
There are guys who do well in college purely on athleticism, and with coaching could do just as well in the pros.
If you think Smith is in this category, if he just develops his technique enough to have the same success he did in college against much better competition in the pros then he's a run stuffer who will come off the field in passing situations and the 2nd round is way too early for him.
There are guys who are very athletic but also so raw that with coaching they could actually be better in the pros than they were in college.
If you think Smith is in this category, it's rare that guys who have failed to soak up coaching suddenly begin to make those strides in the pros. Those are boom or bust guys who bust more often than they boom and are generally taken in the mid to late rounds because of that high risk factor, so the 2nd round is too early for him.
There are guys who are athletic and skilled enough to be good in college, but probably won't be as good in the pros.
I haven't heard many people put Smith in this category, but I think he's somewhere between this and the 2nd category (could be as good in the pros with coaching). He's athletic for sure, but he's not overwhelmingly athletic. Guys who are overwhelmingly athletic make splash plays against lesser competition in college. And the only measured drills Smith was willing to do to show off his athleticism at the combine or his pro day were the jumps, where his numbers were lower than Benton and Dexter's.
At the end of the day the hype around Smith is that his athleticism projects him to potentially be that rare 3 down NT with the anchor to stand his ground against double teams and the quick twitch to collapse or penetrate the pocket as a pass rusher. His dramatic lack of big play production in college, however, suggests that he's either SO RAW technically that a huge (and unlikely) leap is necessary to reach his potential, or that his athleticism is really just "good not great" and his upside as a pass rusher is not impressive.