TAMPA — A year after finding a small-school gem by drafting Ali Marpet out of Division III Hobart College, the Bucs went the same route in the fourth round Saturday, taking Division I-AA North Carolina Central's Ryan Smith, who could help at safety and on returns.
Smith played only one year of high school football, went to NCCU as a 155-pound freshman and developed into a 190-pound prospect who broke the school's tackles record and finished with seven interceptions.
"A lot of people doubted me. A lot of people didn't want to take a chance on me," Smith said of his college recruiting. "It still happens to this day … I'm just blessed to be in this position, and I thank (the Bucs) for this opportunity."
Smith, drafted by Tampa Bay 108th overall, has also played cornerback and nickel in college and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
"He has a lot of versatility as far as what he can help a football team do," NCCU coach Jerry Mack said Saturday. "You're getting a quality athlete who can do a lot of things to help you win games."
The Bucs brought Smith in for a visit and left impressed with his toughness, bringing him to join a revamped secondary that will include first-round corner Vernon Hargreaves and veteran cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson.
"He's fast. He's a low 4.4 (40-yard dash) guy, we've had him timed as high as 4.3," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. "He's an aggressive guy. He'll hit you. He's got a great mentality. He's a super kid. … He's tough, he's athletic. He's got a chance."
Smith, who had only one partial scholarship offer coming out of high school, was the first of four Bucs picks on Saturday from the fourth through seventh rounds. He's grateful for the confidence shown in him from Tampa Bay's front office and coaches.
"I think I can help this team out a lot," he said. "When I'm out there, the feeling is indescribable. … You're going to get my all and then some. I know that for a fact.
"I'm going to be a major part of this team, and I'm going to do everything I can to help them."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.