The 50 most important college players in Texas in 2017 — No. 36: Baylor’s K.J. Smith

AS THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON EDGES CLOSER, WE TAKE A LOOK AT THE MOST PIVOTAL PLAYERS FOR EACH PROGRAM'S RESPECTIVE SUCCESS.

The importance of a player is not always defined by their skill level. The most important player on a team or in a unit is not always the best player on a team. This list is designed to breakdown the 50 most important players in Texas college football for the 2017 season. It is not a ranking of the 50 best college football players in the state. Importance can be defined by position, need, skill or leadership. We’ll count down the list through the summer, all the way to No. 1.

Previously:
50 – Lamar DE Daniel Crosley / 49 – TCU WR KaVontae Turpin / 48 – UTEP QB Ryan Metz
47 – UMHB RB Markeith Miller / 46 – Sam Houston State DE PJ Hall / 45 – Baylor WR Blake Lynch
44 – Texas Tech WR Jonathan Giles (transferred) / 43 – Texas Tech RB Justin Stockton
42 – PVAMU WR Joshua Simmons / 41 – Rice RB Samuel Stewart / 40 – UNT WR Jalen Guyton
39 – Texas RB Chris Warren / 38 – Rice OL Trey Martin / 37 – Texas A&M Commerce QB Luis Perez

The History

Before breaking out as a force on the Baylor defensive line, K.J. Smith racked up honors on a regular basis at Frisco Centennial. He was the district’s Sophomore Defensive MVP in 2010 and earned all-state recognition as both a junior and senior. Smith had 102 tackles and 21 sacks as a senior, snagging the attention of several Power 5 coaches.

Smith redshirted in his first season on campus and then saw limited action in his first five games as a redshirt freshman. He went on to start the last seven games of the 2014 season and finished with 45 tackles, 10 TFL and five sacks. His impact as a sophomore was somewhat diminished in just three starts, but his production spiked last season. Recording 67 tackles, 11 TFL and seven sacks. Smith was one of the team’s most reliable defensive weapons last season.

The Skillset

Smith has moved all over the defensive line at Baylor, but has the brightest future at defensive end – and that’s where first-year coach Matt Rhule intends to set him loose. He can be a nightmare for quarterbacks off the edge and is also a leader in the trenches and for the entire defense. Smith forces quarterbacks out of their comfort zone to make things easier on the secondary, but he is also effective defending the run. His experience will pay dividends for the Bears as the team adjusts to a new coaching staff.

The Impact

Smith is the only proven top tier player returning on the defensive line. While the return of Brian Nance at the other end position is certainly a boost, the rest of the line is largely unproven. Smith showed what he could do in his first full year as a starter and will be out to build on that performance this season. There is no substitute for experience, and as a senior, Smith is a well-seasoned leader on the Bears’ defense.

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Brady Keane is a Contributing Writer for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. Follow him on Twitter: @BradyKeane.

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