Alphonso Smith was a ball-hawking defensive back at the Wake Forest. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the No. 37 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Broncos selected cornerback Alphonso Smith from Wake Forest University.
It has been reported that the Broncos traded a first-round selection in 2010 to Seattle for the pick. Head Coach Josh McDaniels said the team potentially would have picked Smith in the first round, he was that highly valued, so the team went through with the trade.
"We don't care what anybody else rated that player as, or valued that player as," McDaniels said. "The only thing that mattered is that we saw him and he was definitely worth the value and we went ahead and made the switch."
Smith said after he was selected that he was excited, because the Broncos were one of the teams that he hoped he could join.
"One of the reasons I was so attracted to Denver, I was like 'Oh, my God, I'm going to be in the same locker with Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill.' All of these guys have played more than five years. They know the game. And just being a rookie, it's the best situation coming in. And I think, with that being said, I'll add a little pressure to myself -- I might have the best rookie season out of the cornerbacks."
A ball-hawking playmaker at cornerback, Smith finished his career at Wake Forest with 21 interceptions, just the third player since 2000 to collect 20 or more interceptions in a career, and only the second player in the Atlantic Coast Conference to reach the mark (the only other was former Bronco Dre' Bly). In fact, only nine players in college football history have grabbed more interceptions in a career than Smith.
"I take calculated risks," he said. "I get coined as a 'gambler' sometimes, but I know what I can do."
But Smith didn't just have an eye for the ball -- he had an eye for the ballcarrier. He finished his collegiate career with nine sacks, 23.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and eight forced fumbles.
In addition, he is a solid kick returner -- he averaged more than 20 yards per return and even blocked five kicks in his career.
"He was extremely valued in our room, has been all spring," McDaniels said. "We love his ball production. We love the fact that he intercepts the ball, he's a great tackler, a great kid, he's smart and can play in the slot. So that gives us an opportunity to get a guy in there that's a very productive football player, that can help us both in nickel situations and in first and second downs."
His career started as a true freshman, when he earned the right to be the Demon Deacons' starting left cornerback -- his play earned him consensus Freshman All-American and All-ACC honors that season.
His rise to second-round NFL pick continued as a junior, when he earned his first All-American honors. The All-ACC first-team pick ranked tied for second in the nation with eight interceptions, returning three of them for touchdowns -- one shy of the NCAA single-season record. He added 44 tackles with three sacks and led the conference with four forced fumbles. He also had 10 pass deflections and blocked a kick for the third consecutive season.
He finished up his career with an even better senior season, earning consensus All-American honors. He tied for third in the nation with seven interceptions, deflected a team-high 13 passes, averaged 22 yards as a kickoff returner, blocked a kick and caused two fumbles.
Pressure didn't faze Smith, either, as he intercepted passes in front of hundreds of NFL scouts on each of the first three days of work for the 2009 Senior Bowl.
"I have the attitude that I'm trying to come in and start right away, to be honest with you," he said. "That's the way I'm going to approach this thing and if it happens, it'll be great, but if that's not the case, I started all four years at nickel at Wake Forest and I think I'm pretty good at it.