Prospect Preview: DeVonta Smith

Position: WRWeight: 175
College: AlabamaAge: 22
Height: 6′ 1″247 Rating: 4 Stars (0.9717)

By Nate Christian (@NateNFL)

The Rundown:

You most likely already know this name, after all he did become a college football star in 2020, but what does his transition into the NFL look like? Well, depends on who you ask. The film-grinders will tell you the Smith is one of the best receivers in the class and somebody who always impresses. Analytical minds might say that he had a late breakout age (he didn’t produce great numbers until his senior year) or maybe that he’s not worth a high pick because he’s two years older than Ja’Marr Chase. Everyone is right. So, this makes his prospect profile a hard one to comb through. Winning the Heisman did not make Smith a top wide receiver, but his all-around skillset combined with his high-level production are what puts him at the top.

College Production:

It started with a Jaylen Waddle injury and ended with a Heisman. Not to disrespect Smith, who was a top receiver coming into 2020, but Waddle was the receiver everybody wanted to see this year. Once Waddle suffered a (nearly) season-ending ankle injury, Smith stepped up into the WR1 role at Alabama and thrived. One his way to winning the National Championship Smith recorded, 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 25 total touchdowns. He set the SEC career receiving touchdown record (46), passing Amari Cooper (31) early in the season. Smith’s season (and career) will go down in college football history as one of the best.

Strengths:

  • Crisp Route Running
    • Considered one of the best route runners in the draft coming into the season, Smith improved upon an already incredible ability and spent the majority of the season wide open. His cuts are smooth and he doesn’t seem to lose any momentum out of his breaks. He understands the bigger picture and therefore has great pacing in his routes to setup defenders based on route combinations. They should start calling him Smoothie King because he’s constantly putting defenders in the blender (yeah, I know).
  • Instant Release
    • While Smith is used all over the field, and oftentimes in motion, his ability to line up outside against the other team’s top cornerback is perhaps one of his greatest traits. Within seconds he’s usually past his defender already stacking within 10 yards. When the ball is snapped the defender has to be ready for anything, and with Smith’s wide array of moves and routes he’s almost unstoppable. It doesn’t matter if it’s an outside or inside release, Smith usually wins.
  • Plenty of Athleticism
    • It’s hard to play at the level Smith has for so long without some great athletic ability. His ability to run past the defense and find open grass behind the safeties was nearly unmatched this season, and you can see on the screens and punt returns that he’s a burner and can make people miss. The stop/start ability is there, and defenders struggle to get their hands on and tackle the aptly-named “Slim Reaper”.

Weaknesses:

  • Frame
    • “The Slim Reaper”. It’s a good nickname, but it also points out one of Smith’s few “weaknesses”. His listed playing weight at Alabama is 175 pounds, that’s a bit concerning for the longevity of his pro career, as players at that size don’t have a great history or production or health. But there’s still time until official weigh-ins. While he’s not expected to come in at 200 pounds at any point, gaining a bit of weight would silence a lot of his critics (right or wrong).
  • Breakout Age
    • Breakout Age (BOA) is a great stat, basically measuring how early a player started showing off elite production at the college level. Naturally the earlier the better. And it checked out, players statistically have a better chance of being a top fantasy receiver the lower their BOA. Smith’s breakout age comes out to 20.8, which isn’t terrible, but at the 42nd percentile it surely isn’t lighting up the board. This doesn’t worry me too much considering the competition within the team for touches at Alabama over the past couple years.
  • Overhyped?
    • The first receiver to win the Heisman since 1991. It’s impressive, but that doesn’t really equate to NFL success. Smith is a great prospect and an even better college football player, but the Heisman technically shouldn’t affect his player profile, but he’s become an icon. We’ve seen plenty of players get overhyped in the media and setup to fail with lofty expectations. I’m hoping we don’t see this with Smith, I’m rooting for the kid, but it is certainly something to take into account when projecting his NFL career.

Things to Watch:

Everyone around the league will be keeping their eyes peeled on the scale when Smith finally weighs in. If he comes out at his college listed weight of 175, some teams may push him down the board, scared of the lack of thickness. But if Smith can weigh in around 185 pounds, may doubts will be alleviated, as this puts him in a whole new level of comparisons. Smith needs to be shooting for 185, that’s the number that Marvin Harrison played at and he worked out okay. Outside of this factor, Smith will likely test well and will go into the NFL draft as likely one the of first receivers to be drafted.

Projected Round/Contract:  

Smith’s contract has a bit of range throughout the beginnings of the first round. While some have marked him as high as three overall (to the Miami Dolphins), he’s been seen as low as 18 overall (again to the Miami Dolphins). So it seems the consensus is that the Dolphins don’t pass on Smith twice. If we project him to be projected somewhere in the middle of that range, then his contract would likely mimic the deal that Henry Ruggs ($4,167,907) signed this past summer. That deal would give him 4-years at a total of around $16,671,626, though a bit higher of a draft position could see this number climb to around $20,000,000 total.

Team Fits:  

Well, I guess the obvious first fit is the Miami Dolphins. Pairing DeVonta Smith with his college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ($7,568,860) just seems too exciting. We saw this last year with draftniks mocking CeeDee Lamb ($3,502,503) to the Arizona Cardinals to pair backup with Kyler Murray ($8,789,661).  The fit seems good, Smith would bring a different dynamic to the current offense which boasts two big receivers on the outside in Devante Parker ($7,625,000) and Preston Williams ($588,333). Smith has the ability to be used all over the field and would be a great (and familiar) weapon for whichever quarterback starts the 2021 season in Miami.

Another common landing spot for Smith is the Philadelphia Eagles. While they just spent a 1st round pick on receiver Jalen Reagor ($3,317,669) in the 2020 NFL Draft, the group of wideouts in Philly could still use help. At sixth pick it may be a luxury for a team that needs so much help along the offensive line, but whichever quarterback the Eagles decide to champion into the 2021 season, they need more weapons. Reagor ($3,317,669) and Smith would create a great 1-2 punch of young receivers to build around.

Lastly, I’ll have to mention a landing spot that I don’t think has been brought up a single time… the Arizona Cardinals. This team already has their WR1 in DeAndre Hopkins ($27,250,000) but there are some questions after that. Christian Kirk ($1,473,717) has failed to consistently impress and will be entering the last year of his rookie contract. There’s also Larry Fitzgerald ($11,500,000) who is likely mulling over retirement. With Kingsbury relying on a fast attack spread offense, Smith would be an incredible fit with all the motion and screens the Cardinals would be able to implement. The Cardinals don’t necessarily need a wideout in the first round, but if Smith is still around at pick 16, I would expect the front office to think long and hard about the future of their current receiver corp.

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