- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter
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Some scouts considered Smallwood a second-round talent going into the 2013 college football season at Connecticut. His stock, however, took a tumble when he posted a 5.01-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine trying to run through a hamstring injury.
Smallwood left school early and ended up a seventh-round draft pick. He signed a four-year deal that included a$45,896 signing bonus and $2.2 million in base salaries.
"Right now, I can't really do anything about it, so it is what it is,'' Smallwood said of his draft stock falling. "It doesn't matter which round you get drafted in when you're on that football field, so I'm just going to do what I do.
"I feel like the only thing that I lost was money, really. And I don't play the game for money. I play the game because I love this game. This is what I've always done. So I'm just going to keep coming out here and competing.''
The 6-foot-4, 236-pound Smallwood has a very thick build and looks like someone capable of knocking an opponent back a few yards on every play. He's playing inside linebacker and could find his way onto the field this season, which is likely to begin with a contribution on special teams. One of the projected starters at inside linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon, is still dealing with a knee issue and won't do much this offseason. That opens up an opportunity for Smallwood and fellow rookie Marquis Spruill to get additional reps.
Smallwood talked about the aspect of his game he hopes to improve.
"There's not really one thing,'' he said. "I'm just trying to get better every day. It's the NFL. These guys are all pros. These guys have been playing many years now so they know what they're trying to do. If I had to say anything, I'd say just make sure I'm the best guy in the film room making sure I get everything down, making sure I'm where I'm supposed to be."
Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker Yawin Smallwood has reason to play with a chip on his shoulder, but he's more worried about just playing football, period.