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5 things to know about new Browns DE Za'Darius Smith

Smith took a unique path into football to become one of the top edge rushers in the league


The Browns have a new Pro Bowl weapon on their defensive line — Za’Darius Smith is joining the Browns after a trade with the Vikings.

It's now time to learn a bit more about him.

Here are five things to know about the big addition to the defense.

1. One of the league's best

When healthy, Smith has been one of the league's most dominant edge rushers in the last four years.

He finished the top six in the league in sacks in 2019 and 2020, finishing sixth on the league leaderboard with a career-high 13.5 sacks in 2019 and tying for fourth with 12.5 sacks in 2020.

Smith played just one game in 2021 due to a back injury, but he returned in 2022 and again reached a double-digit total with 10 sacks, which was 20th on the league leaderboard.

Smith has 54.5 career sacks, and 36 of them have come in the last four seasons. He's been nothing but consistent when healthy, and the Browns believe he'll be able to continue his success working across from their other Pro Bowl edge rusher, Myles Garrett.

Check out photos over the years of the Browns' new Pro Bowl edge rusher, Za'Darius Smith

2. A fourth-round success story

Smith has far exceeded the typical career trajectory for players drafted in the mid-rounds.

A fourth-round pick by the Ravens in 2015, Smith was the 17th defensive end to be picked in his draft class but made the most of the playing time he received his rookie year. He totaled a respectable 5.5 sacks in 15 games his first season.

He earned his first career start the next year, but he didn't match his rookie year totals again until 2018 when he totaled 8.5 sacks. That was also his last year in Baltimore before he signed with the Packers in 2019.

3. A late-bloomer to football

Smith didn't begin playing football until his senior year at Greenville High School in Alabama.

That's because, until that point, he was all in on basketball.

Smith was one of the tallest kids in his high school class and enjoyed using his size to dominate on the court, but it wasn't until he began playing against taller competition at the AAU level did he realize his potential in the sport had a ceiling.

So he took up football, and he was only allowed on the team after the seniors voted in favor to bring Smith in despite never playing in a game.

"I knew in my right mind I wasn't going to let him walk out the door," his high school coach Ben Blackmon told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. "But I drew up a contract where he had to come in at 6:30 in the morning, meet me at school to make up workouts and he had to stay and help clean the locker room and keep his grades up. And he had no problem doing that."

4. Community college path

Smith's unique path into football continued at the community college level. He attended East Mississippi Community College, the school that appeared on the popular Netflix show, "Last Chance U."

Although Smith's years at the school preceded the show, the experience of living in the small town of Scooba, Mississippi still molded Smith into a dedicated player.

"At junior college, we didn't have a pair of cleats a game or we didn't have different gloves per game," he told Glenn Cark from PressBox. "We had one pair of shoes, one pair of cleats for the whole season. That little stuff right there made me humble. To make it out of there, it was basically football and books at East Mississippi."

Smith spent two years at EMCC before earning his Division I opportunity at Kentucky, where he started games his junior and senior season and began to build his NFL resume. He totaled 11 sacks in his two seasons in the SEC.

5. He's arguably the Browns' biggest offseason addition

Smith joins DT Dalvin Tomlinson, WR Elijah Moore, S Juan Thornhill and DE Ogbo Okoronkwo, among other offseason acquisitions, as the one of the most talented players added to the roster this offseason.

He'll immediately pencil in as a starter next to Garrett to create an edge rushing duo that combined for 26 sacks last season. The Browns have two players more than capable of topping double-digit sacks, and the possibilities for the revamped defensive line appear endless under the D-Line friendly schemes new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has found to be successful over his career in the NFL.

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