Grayson grad Quanterus Smith, coming off a knee injury that cut his senior season of college short, begins training camp with the Denver Broncos this week. Smith was a fifth-round choice of Denver in this year’s NFL Draft. (Photo: Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)
An untimely knee injury last November immediately cost Quanterus Smith a few things, like the national sacks lead and the remaining games of his senior season at Western Kentucky.
The Grayson grad likely was hurt by the injury even more in the months leading up to the NFL Draft. It likely dropped him several rounds in the draft — the Denver Broncos took him in the fifth round — and a considerable amount of cash in his bank account.
While other prospects had opportunities like combines, pro days and private workouts, Smith was in rehabilitation after tearing his ACL in a Nov. 17 game against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I knew it was going to hurt me not being able to do all that (pre-draft) stuff,” Smith said. “I could have gone higher (in the draft), but it is what it is. As long as I got an opportunity, it’s good.”
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound defensive end — up 50 pounds from when he left Grayson — doesn’t plan to let that chance slip away from him. He began Broncos training camp Thursday with the goal of proving himself as an NFL player and returning to the form that made him one of the nation’s top defensive players in 2012.
Smith’s breakout senior season saw him total 12.5 sacks in only 10 games, which was enough to earn him Sun Belt defensive player of the year honors. He had 7.5 sacks and was a second-team All-Sun Belt pick as a junior, but it was what he did last season that drew the pro scouts’ attention.
He had a whopping five sacks — the second-highest single game total in NCAA history — in a win over Florida International, though it was his effort against national champion Alabama that proved his skills to the masses.
Smith had three sacks in a September matchup with the Crimson Tide, beating an Alabama line that included 2013 first-round pick (No. 11 overall) D.J. Fluker and likely future first-rounder Cyrus Kouandjio at the tackle spots.
“I knew the Alabama game was a big game as far as the draft and doing what I wanted to do (for pro scouts),” Smith said. “That game got me drafted pretty much, with me being injured and missing all the combines and stuff after the season.”
Smith’s chances to impress scouts before the draft ended Nov. 17, when a spin move gone wrong left him with a torn ACL. He had surgery right after the season, setting up an offseason of rehab and assorted off-the-field workouts.
The 23-year-old got back on the field for the Broncos’ mini-camp, showing the team a glimpse of why it took a chance on a player coming off an ACL injury.
“It meant a lot that they gave me the opportunity to play here,” Smith said.
Denver obviously saw a lot of upside in the defensive lineman when it took him in the fifth round.
“It was his pass-rush ability,” Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway told The Denver Post. “He’s got a unique ability to rush the passer. We saw one of his best games was against two really good tackles at Alabama. (Smith has) the unique ability to duck and a great feel to rush the passer.”
Now Smith just has to prove he can rush the passer at the highest level.
“I feel like once I get healthy, I can play with those guys (in the NFL),” Smith said. “My first goal is to make the team. My second is to be healthy. My third is to do my part and do what I can to help the team win.”