INDIANAPOLIS — Some stud NFL players are just fine performing at a high level while being completely outside of the limelight.
Every team's got them; a player that casual fans couldn't pick out of a lineup, but about whom opposing players would sing their praises when asked.
Recently, Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report set out to identify each of these players on all 32 NFL rosters, and his selection for the Indianapolis Colts was none other than starting right tackle Braden Smith.
Smith came into the league as part of a hugely-successful 2018 NFL Draft class for the Colts, and he's been in the shadows even though he's performed at a high level as Indy's starting right tackle for nearly two full seasons.
Here's what Davenport had to say about the Colts' third-year road-grader.
It's not at all unusual for a player who lined up at tackle in college to kick inside in the pros as the result of a lack of length or quickness. However, it's not that often someone does the opposite like Braden Smith of the Indianapolis Colts.
A right guard at Auburn, Smith was pressed into action at tackle by injuries at the position during the 2018 season. He more than held his own in his first game against the New England Patriots—and he's been a fixture there ever since.
Per Andrew Walker of the team's website, head coach Frank Reich compared Smith to super-guard Quenton Nelson:
'Rightly so, Quenton has gotten a lot of attention—[but] Braden has played lights out. When we moved him we knew we had a great run blocker. I mean, you just watch his college tape, you knew he was a great run blocker. When he got here you knew the pass blocking needed some work, but he worked hard at that. So that was going to be the big question moving him out to right tackle, 'How would he handle it?' He's just continued to get better and better.'"
Smith may start to approach Nelson's renown this year.
After being selected by the Colts with the No. 37-overall pick in 2018 to be the long-term right guard counterpart to left guard Quenton Nelson, a mess of injuries and other circumstances on the offensive line moved Smith to right tackle.
After Smith and Mark Glowinski looked great at right tackle and guard, respectively, the rest was history, and Smith was the team's new right tackle.
After that debut season, Smith was the third-highest-graded rookie offensive lineman (71.4), according to Pro Football Focus, trailing only Nelson (76.7) and fellow right tackle Mike McGlinchey (73.2) of the San Francisco 49ers.
After an entire offseason of training at right tackle rather than guard last year, Smith took another step forward and became a dominant run blocker.
In 2019, among all NFL offensive linemen, regardless of position, Smith ranked fifth in run blocking (86.4). Among all offensive tackles, he was seventh in overall grade (79.8), and among all right tackles, he ranked 12th in pass blocking (68.1).
According to PFF, in 2019, the Colts ran the ball 88 times behind Smith or to his outside for 483 yards (5.5 avg.), four touchdowns and 12 runs of 10-plus yards.
Smith was also one of only 12 offensive tackles to be flagged for five or fewer penalties.
Another strong point to Smith as a player is his durability, as he has only missed one snap since taking over as the Colts' right tackle in Week 5 of his rookie year.
One area in which Smith continues to work is pass protection, which might not be surprising considering his transition from college guard to now defending against the NFL's top edge rushers week in and week out at tackle; he's allowed 46 total quarterback pressures (30 hurries, nine hits, seven sacks), but continues to improve as a player in that aspect of his game.
So, what will it take for outsiders to start giving Smith the respect he deserves?
For starters, as Smith continues growing as a pass blocker, people will begin mentioning him a bit more among the league's better tackles, as his run blocking is already well above average.
Another factor will be if the Colts begin making the playoffs at a more consistent level, as it will put a light on more of their players, especially their established starters like Smith.
For now, however, Smith will keep his head down and keep getting better while national analysts begin to figure more out about him.
See some of the best photos of Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Braden Smith.