Commanders 2023 UDFA profile: Kendall Smith shows promise

Kendall Smith
Kendall Smith / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Will undrafted free-agent safety Kendall Smith impress enough in the preseason to earn a spot with the Washington Commanders in 2023?

The Washington Commanders enter the 2023 season in a particularly unique position, with new ownership set to take over just before training camp begins. This offseason was full of wholesale changes in the nation’s capital - with new staff coupled with a collection of talented rookies and veterans added to the depth chart over the summer. 

Besides the major splash moves of signing assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and deciding to roll the dice with 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell as QB1, the Commanders also completely retooled their secondary unit.

With veteran starter Kendall Fuller entering the final year of his contract and promising third-year cornerback Benjamin St-Juste missing much of his first two seasons with injuries, Washington used their first two picks of the 2023 NFL Draft to select back-to-back defensive playmakers in Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin.

Super-sub Danny Johnson was also brought back on a multi-year deal after showing flashes in a part-time slot role in 2022. Last year's seventh-round selection, Christian Holmes, played in all 17 games, making his impact mainly on special teams.

The Commanders also brought in veteran safety Terrell Burgess to compete for snaps with All-Pro special teamer Jeremy Reaves and versatile second-year player Percy Butler. This will be behind impact starters Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest on the backend.

Washington looks to have a surprisingly solid secondary group going into 2023. But many question marks remain, especially when keeping in mind the contracts of both Fuller and Curl are set to expire after the season concludes.

Kendall Smith adds developmental depth to Commanders

But could a dark horse emerge from one of the lesser-known prospects currently on the Commanders roster?

Today we take a closer look at another of Washington’s 2023 undrafted free agents, gauging their odds to make the Commanders' final 53-man roster as well as their future fit in the NFL.

  • Name: Kendall Smith
  • School: Illinois
  • Position: FS
  • Height: 6-foot-1
  • Weight: 200 pounds

Kendall Smith was originally a three-star recruit at wide receiver out of Bolingbrook High School in Illinois. After signing with his home state in 2017, he was moved to the defensive side of the ball as a free safety but took some time to adapt to the new position.

Smith spent his first four seasons playing strictly on special teams before bursting onto the scene as a senior in 2022.

When Smith finally got his chance as a college starter, he shined, starting eight of 13 games at free safety in a loaded Illinois secondary. This also included the aforementioned Martin, as well as fellow draft picks Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown. 

Playing alongside a ton of NFL talent, Smith was extremely impactful during his final college season, collecting 39 total tackles to go along with five pass deflections and five interceptions while also being named an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention for his efforts. The one-year starter showed exceptional ball skills while being asked to play the deep middle for the Fighting Illini, displaying sideline-to-sideline range with superb open-field tackling in space. 

Smith is an older prospect in NFL terms after spending five years in college, and will already be 24 years old by the time he takes his first pro snap. While the single-high specialist possesses adequate size and speed for the position, he may have already hit his athletic peak.

This means Smith might be more than likely a career-core special teamer. But he has the playmaking traits that could eventually see him grow into a larger role on defense. 

With the Commanders' secondary room seemingly stacked, Smith’s odds of making Washington’s final roster appear to be slim to none. But with an impressive training camp and preseason, the special teams star could just play his way onto the practice squad as a developmental depth option in Jack Del Rio’s new-look defense.