When it came time to pick a jersey number in middle school, Tremon Smith knew his preference. He wanted to be No. 14, a chance to emulate his favorite college player.
Nearly a decade later, the two will become NFL teammates.
The Chiefs drafted Smith, a cornerback from Central Arkansas, in the sixth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday, using the 196th overall selection. He will join Berry, who wore No. 14 during his time at Tennessee, in the Chiefs’ secondary.
“That was my guy growing up. That’s who I looked up to,” Smith said. “... Me learning from that guy, it’s going to help me be the best player I can possibly be for sure.”
That will require a learning curve. Smith (6-0, 190 pounds) is making the leap from the Football Championship Subdivision to the NFL.
Chiefs scout Willie Davis offered a list of reasons why the franchise believes Smith is capable of sticking — most notably his ball skills and speed. Smith had 15 interceptions over his career at Central Arkansas, and picked off five last season, including one for a touchdown. He also had 16 passes defended and 41 tackles in his senior season, when he was a third-team FCS All-America selection.
“You saw the speed, but you couldn’t help but notice how often this kid is always around the ball,” Davis said. “Whether it’s playing his man or coming off his man (and) seeing the ball come out of the quarterback’s hands, he’s always around the ball. And then you saw the speed.”
Smith ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his pro day, but he has been clocked as low as 4.3. He also served as a part-time punt returner at Central Arkansas and was a quarterback in high school.
“That’s why I look forward to getting all the interceptions,” he said. “I came from the offensive side.”
The stylistic fit was another factor in the selection. Smith said he played 90 percent press-man coverage in college, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid has said the team will play press.
But that’s likely the long-term play for Smith. With the Chiefs having Kendall Fuller, Steven Nelson and David Amerson on the cornerback depth chart, the immediate play will likely push Smith into a special-teams role. He has experience there and returned 14 punts for 71 yards in his senior season.
“That’s probably where he’s going to have to make his living at first, because of the guys we have in front of him and the learning curve he’s going to come in with,” Davis said. “I think where he’s going to come in and be able to really contribute to the team is on special teams.”