When The Buccaneers drafted Donovan Smith in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, they were hoping they found their left tackle of the future. As it turned out, that is exactly what they got.
Smith immediately stepped in and started all 16 games as a rookie. He would then go on to start every game but one over the next three years. Although Smith had some up-and-down moments, he played well enough to warrant a second contract. The team rewarded him with at three-year, $41.5 million contract in March of 2019. Over the next two seasons, Smith cut down on both sacks allowed and penalties, culminating in a dominant performance in the second half of the 2020 season. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith was the only left tackle to allow zero pressures out of true pass sets from Weeks 12-17 of the regular season. He allowed just three pressures in the same context throughout the postseason.
That dominant showing, in conjunction with the need to bring back key free agents, led to another extension for Smith. This time it would be a two-year, $31.8 million deal, with a whopping $30 million guaranteed. Smith will make an “unprecedented” $57 million over four straight years thanks to the recent deals.
Everything is going about as well as it can for the former Nittany Lion. Complacency, however, isn’t in Smiths vocabulary.
Smith met with the media on Thursday after signing his new deal to talk about what was next. I had the opportunity to ask him that exact question and how one sustains that level of play?
“I’m still young. I’m still learning,” Smith said. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing. As you keep learning, the better you can get through the years. Once you feel like you’ve stopped learning or know it all, that’s where you get complacent. I’m still learning a lot and I just love it.”
Smith will be just 28-years-old when the season kicks off, so he has plenty of room to grow as a player. The combination of his own hunger to get better and playing with the greatest quarterback of all-time should continue that upward learning curve.
And he still has good, old-fashioned competition to drive him as well.
“I go out there have fun with my guys, [I] enjoy winning,” he said. “Just to be able to go out there consistently [and] have fun with it and know that as a unit, as a team, we all gotta go out there and do what we have to do and know that at the end of the day, winning is what we’re trying to get done.”
The Buccaneers have done an amazing job at returning nearly all 22 starters from Week 1 of the 2020 season. That means the offensive line will stay intact for the first time in over five seasons. That kind of continuity is a key element for an impressive offensive line that looks to continue to build on a stellar 2020 campaign.
Smith’s improvement is a big part of that. I mean, there’s a reason why the Bucs have entrusted him to protect Tom Brady’s blindside for the duration of his career in Tampa Bay.