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Donovan Smith is steady, despite his critics.

Following a season where offensive production actually dipped  from the previous season, fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking for a culprit. 

Many people look for a specific instance or group to blame when a team falls short of the postseason. Like most fan bases, Bucs fans choose to lay their blame at the feet of the offensive line.

Watching a broadcast version of a NFL game is a less than ideal way to evaluate offensive line play. On television, the focus of the cameras is where the ball is, therefore, fans only notice offensive lineman when they mess up. Nobody is standing up in their living room or in Raymond James Stadium high-fiving their buddy over a good zone block by Ali Marpet. But when Donovan Smith or Demar Dotson give up a sack, out come the pitchforks.

Donovan Smith seems to be the hot button topic player up front for Tampa Bay. Following a season where he played every offensive snap, some fans are calling for the Bucs to make an upgrade at the left tackle position. Ridiculous? I think so.

First, you don’t replace a second year guy who has started every game, and who is at worst, a league average player. That’s the kind of irrational analysis that enabled Donald Penn‘s departure after the 2013 season to be an afterthought. I recall one of Penn’s finals games for the Bucs was a road game in St.Louis where he surrendered three sacks to Robert Quinn. Fans were livid, and the football message board scouts of Tampa wanted him run out of town.

Fans got their wish, and three years later Penn has started 48 straight games at left tackle for the Oakland Raiders. Penn also was a 2016 pro bowl selection. Meanwhile, the Bucs signed Anthony Collins, of the Cincinnati Bengals, to a five-year, $30 million deal prior to the 2014 season. Collins flamed out in Tampa. He started ten games in the 2014 season and was so bad that he was eventually replaced in the lineup by Oniel Cousins. Collins has been out of the NFL since the 2014 season.

Admittedly, Smith did have some troubles with pass protection, which is pretty important considering he’s protecting Jameis Winston‘s blind side. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was ranked in the bottom half of the league in pass protection grades for offensive tackles. This is probably an article for another day, but it should be noted, that I don’t agree with a lot of what I see on Pro Football Focus.

Personally it seems impossible for a subjective party to “grade” a player based on what he/she thinks the player is supposed to be doing. It’s impossible to do this without making conclusions on conjecture and assumptions. Also, PFF is a UK-based business. What are the qualifications on these people they have grading this film? Is there anyone on the staff with previous coaching experience in the NFL or even college?

What is known is what can be witnessed out on the playing field. Smith is mauling run blocker and is very good at the point of attack and getting to the second level. In the passing game, Donovan Smith, can look what appears to be lazy to some, but it is seemigly more of a technique issue. Sometimes his feet stop moving, which is a death sentence to an offensive tackle, and sometimes he relies too much on his punch, which is very good, but he can get overextended and off-balance when the punch doesn’t hit it’s target.

Smith was maligned for two games mid-season, where he played miserably in consecutive weeks. Against the Oakland Raiders on October 30, Smith had his hands full all day with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, two of the league’s best pass rushers. The following week, in a nationally televised game against the Atlanta Falcons, Smith struggled again, this time against Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn.

Donovan Smith, however, followed that up with some of his strongest efforts of the season. In successive weeks, he blanked two of the league’s premier pass rushers: Justin Houston of Kansas City and Seattle’s Cliff Avril. And for those who do subscribe to Pro Football Focus’ opinions, Smith yielded no sacks and only 12 pressures over the last seven games.

With the 2017 NFL draft approaching in just a little over two months, there are several directions that the Bucs could go to upgrade their roster. Fans of the team need to come to grips with the fact that drafting a left tackle is not going to be the team’s approach in this year’s draft.

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