When a cornerback stands just 5'9" he better have a special element to his game if he wants an opportunity at the NFL level. Former Bills first-round pick Antoine Winfield stood just 5'9", but had lights out tackling ability and could turn and run with just about anyone. For Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith, the calling card is interceptions.
Smith had 21 in his college career for the Demon Deacons breaking the ACC record previously held by Dre Bly. The defensive playmaker knows his stature is going to immediately put doubt in the minds of some NFL talent evaluators, so making big plays is a way to combat that.
"I think I compensate for it with the ball skills that I have, the knowledge of the game and just the way I approach the game," said Smith of his lack of height. "I'm very, very competitive. Most of the teams have their regional scouts and their head scouts have watched the film. So they see how productive I am and the plays that I make. Of course height is always going to be an issue."
But Smith's production has gone a long way in convincing NFL clubs that he's worth the investment and early in the draft as many draft analysts forecast him to come off the board in the second half of round one or first half of round two.
Smith has always been a ballhawk. In his time at Wake he had 61 pass breakups. He attributes his success to his keen understanding of the Demon Deacons defensive scheme.
"You have to be smart," said Smith. "You have to understand the defense. That's one of the things I did. I understood our defense and I knew when I could take chances and when I could not take chances."
The Florida native also has tremendous ball skills, thanks in large part to his experience on the offensive side of the ball prior to arriving on campus in Winston-Salem.
And each summer Smith would test those ball skills against some of the better wideouts in the NFL.
"Every summer, I get a chance to face Anquan Boldin and Santonio Holmes when they come home," said Smith. "So it's not much of a big deal (moving up to the NFL). I'm a ballplayer, I'm competitive. I do what
I do, and I do it very well."
Those summer sessions took place because Smith's high school and college teammate Demir Boldin is the younger brother of the Arizona Cardinals wideout.
"We were out on the field doing one-on-one's and Anquan was like, 'If I don't catch it with one hand, it doesn't count.' So it started then. I used to talk back to him and he'd talk back to me. You have no idea. We did some of that with Holmes too."
Suffice to say it made playing against the likes of North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, Maryland's Darius Heyward-Bey and even Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson a couple of years ago a lot less daunting.
"It made it easy," said Smith. "Trust me, it made it real easy."
Still there are doubters among the NFL scouts that wonder if he's strong enough to jam receivers at the line, big enough to adequately support the run or tall enough to fight bigger receivers for jump balls. But if you ask the corner himself he'll tell you just what you'll get in him.
"I think out of all the defensive backs, I've had the most productive career. Twenty-one career interceptions. I've made plays from freshman year to sophomore year to junior year to senior year. I think, honestly, I'm the best corner in this draft. But I have certain things against me. My height, top-end speed.
"I just know I've made plays, but all my life I've been a winner. All my life I've had this attitude where I don't care who you are, where you've been, who your father is, who you play for, I don't care. It's me vs. you, and I'm going to try and come out on top.That goes for everyone."