Former Ooltewah High and University of Tennessee defender Jacques Smith was taken as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons just moments after the NFL draft ended Saturday evening.
Smith said his agent also had discussions with San Diego and Pittsburgh but noted that the Falcons had informed him last week that if he went undrafted he would be their top preferred free agent.
"I'm really glad it worked out the way it did," Smith said. "It's close to home, and as much as I've loved wearing the orange and white the past few years, putting on that red and black is going to be a dream come true.
"I can't wait to put that helmet on and show what I can do. This is the chance I've always dreamed of, so now it's up to me to make the most of it. I'm really just appreciative of the opportunity to get to become a pro football player, and so close to home. "
The 6-foot-2, 258-pound Smith played defensive end and outside linebacker during his UT career, finishing with 92 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The Falcons likely will switch to a 3-4 defensive alignment this season, meaning Smith would play outside linebacker. In preparation for that move, and because of a lack of quality depth at the position, four of the Falcons' final five draft selections were linebackers. They took a defensive end in the second round.
Smith said he was relaxing at home with his girlfriend and grilling out while watching the final rounds of the draft when the call came.
"The Falcons called to say they had worked out the details with my agent and for me to fly to Atlanta [today] to sign the paperwork and get ready for the rookie mini-camps coming up. I'm going to work really hard to learn as much as I can and earn a spot on their roster.
"I think the fact that I played in both the 4-3 and 3-4 and had to be versatile as an end and linebacker will really help now, because I'm versatile enough to be that speed rusher coming off the edge and I can drop back into coverage."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.