Elerson Smith had to wait about 12 hours longer than teammate Spencer Brown, but just before noon Saturday the fantastic Northern Iowa defensive end heard his name called in the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Smith was taken with the 11th pick of the fourth round, 116th overall, by the New York Giants.
“I can’t wait to hear his name called, too, so I can congratulate him,” Brown said Friday night after being selected 93rd overall in the third round by Buffalo.
This is the fourth time UNI has had multiple players selected in the NFL draft and the first since 2018 when Chad Rinehart was taken in the third round by Washington and Brandon Keith in the seventh by Arizona.
The Panthers also had multiple picks in 1966 (Randy Schultz and Doug Korver) and in 1976 (Bill Salmon and Mike Timmermans).
After an impressive 2019, Smith opted out of UNI’s abbreviated 2020-21 season to train for the draft and he spent the time wisely.
In front of more than 40 NFL scouts and personnel, Brown, Smith and three former teammates – Jackson Scott-Brown, Trevor Allen and Jaylin Smith – took part in UNI’s annual Pro Day inside the UNI-Dome.
Adding bulk and speed, Smith first wowed at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and then put on an off-the-charts display during UNI’s pro day in March where he produced a 41 1/2 inch vertical leap, a 127 inch broad jump and bench 225 pounds 26 times. He also ran a 4.69 40.
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said this to SI.com after Smith’s week-long performance, “One of the biggest risers out of Senior Bowl week is UNI football’s Edge Elerson Smith. He has elite tools, will blow up his pro day, and was arguably the most impressive physical specimen at weigh-ins. Oh, and he can rush inside and outside.”
In 2019, Smith had 62 quarterback pressures to go with his 14 sacks, 14 QB hurries, 21.5 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and 64 total tackles.
For his career, Smith had 32 1/2 tackles for loss, 22 sacks and 16 QB hurries.
Smith finished his career ranking among UNI’s Top 10 in 12 different statistical categories.
Brown said it was a no-brainer for an NFL team to take Smith because he knew how talented the Minneapolis native was from daily battles at UNI practices.
MOBILE, Ala. – Northern Iowa defensive end Elerson G. Smith has accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in 2021.
“The best guy I saw every year was Elerson,” Brown said. “I saw him every single day. We had some good battles. We liked to go at it after practice.
“I’m sure when he gets on here he is going to say he got used to being held once practice was going on. After fall camp the inside of his jersey was usually ripped up pretty good, but that was about the only way you could block the guy so I had to get by.”
UNI defensive line coach Bryce Paup, the 1995 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, said last month that Smith was just starting scratch the surface of his talent.
“He’s worked at it. He studied film. He changed his habits and his game improved because of it. There are still a lot of things he can get better at,” Paup said. “Using his left arm. Putting weight on … he was a little light last year. He does a good job with his hands, and he likes to do it from a distance. I challenged him about a month and a half ago that now you got to do it in a phone booth. Teams knew he was fast so they were kicking him wide. Now he’s got to be able to beat them in a phone booth, too.”
Smith’s selection also marked a historic day for the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Five MVFC players had been drafted prior to the fifth round – NDSU’s Trey Lance, NDSU’s Dillon Radunz, Brown, NDSU/LSU’s Jabril Cox and Smith. Three times previously four MVFC players had been taken – 1986, 1987 and 2015.
There were still several current or former MVFC standouts on the board with three rounds left, including former UNI tight end Briley Moore, who played last fall for Kansas State.