NFL draft day has finally arrived for Alabama's Outland Trophy winner, who hasn't exactly navigated the evaluation and preparation stages of the process smoothly.
In spite of the troubles — ranging from going AWOL at the combine to his poor performance on pro day — Smith is expected to be an early first round pick when the draft begins at 3 p.m. today. The first two rounds will be held today, with the final five starting at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Smith will not be attending the live draft show in New York City's Radio City Music Hall. Instead, he will watch the festivities from the Sheraton Hotel in Birmingham.
Should the consensus predictions hold firm, he would be the first Crimson Tide player taken in the first round since Chris Samuels and Shaun Alexander each did so in 2000.
Once projected to be a potential No. 1 overall selection, the majority of draft experts think the Birmingham native will be taken in the first half of the opening round.
"He's a Walter Jones-type who could have gone No. 1 overall to the Lions had he been fortunate enough to have an agent, coach, father or friend protect his image and interests as well as Smith protected John Parker Wilson's blindside at 'Bama," Athlon Sports editor Nathan Rush said.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., an NFL draft analyst for 25 years, is among the handful who project Smith to go to the Cincinnati Bengals as the sixth selection of the first round. Kiper is predicting Smith will be the second of three offensive tackles taken in the first 10 selections, along with Baylor's Jason Smith (second) and Virginia's Eugene Monroe (seventh).
Center Antoine Caldwell and safety Rashad Johnson could join Smith as former Crimson Tide players selected on Saturday. Running back Glen Coffee and quarterback John Parker Wilson are more likely to be selected on Sunday or sign as un-drafted free agents.
Speaking in Huntsville on Thursday, Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke highly of Smith, whose college career ended poorly. His suspension for the Sugar Bowl against Utah created a distraction and a hole on the offensive line, but the coach said Smith never had character issues.
"His legacy as a player at the University of Alabama should be: He was an All-American who won the Outland Trophy," Saban said at Thursday's Crimson Caravan stop in Huntsville. "Now that gets tainted a little bit by the bowl game, and he made poor choices and decisions about what he did. And that is a reflection to some people, and how he managed the combine is a reflection to some people."
Hiring new agent Rick Smith to replace Alvin Keens was a good move, Saban said.
"It certainly can send the message to a lot of teams that Andre now is going to get the kind of direction and guidance that he needs to have the same kind of career in the NFL as he had at the University of Alabama," Saban said.