Devonta Smith is a polarizing but impressive prospect no matter how you slice it. Smith is a player who will be drafted in the top half of the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Considering his production over the last two seasons, it’s easy to see why. As only the fourth wide receiver and the first since 1991 (Desmond Howard) to take home the Heisman trophy in 2020, Devonta Smith helped himself considerably by staying for his senior season.
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DeVonta Smith College Stats
Devonta Smith entered Alabama as a four-star prospect, per 247sports. Smith showed the ability to take over a game back in high school. During his highschool’s state title game, he snagged eight passes for 111 receiving yards while also returning a kick and an interception for touchdowns. Smith’s 2020 season is obviously one worth discussing, but even traveling back to 2019, he was crushing the opposition on a talented depth chart. Smith led a wide receiver room that included Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle in receiving yards (1,256) and receiving touchdowns (14). With Jeudy and Ruggs departing for the NFL as first-round picks, Smith was set to lead Alabama’s vaunted passing game with Waddle by his side. Waddle was lost to injury during the season’s fifth game (until the title game). Through the first games of the 2020 season, Smith and Waddle’s totals are below.
After that point, Smith went on a tear as the unquestioned alpha for Alabama for the final eight games. Smith averaged a ridiculous, Madden-like stat line of nine receptions, 162.5 receiving yards and 2.3 receiving touchdowns per game.
How does DeVonta Smith win?
- Route running
- Explosive first step
- Strong at the catch point
- Varied releases
DeVonta Smith was a force to be reckoned with in 2020. Even without Waddle, teams knew weekly they would receive heavy doses of Smith and Najee Harris, and they were still powerless to stop him. Smith is a route running technician with the ability to separate versus man coverage and destroy the soft spots in zone. Smith displayed the ability to win at all levels of the field. Smith recorded catch rates of 86.4% and 75.6% on passes of 1-9 yards and 10-19 yards while also securing 53.5% of his targets 20+ yards down the field. Smith’s passer ratings when targeted were 151.8 (1-9 yards), 156.7 (10-19 yards) and 108.6 (20+ yards). Smith ranked first (among 145 wide receivers with 50 or more targets) in yards per route run (4.39) in 2020. His prowess in this metric wasn’t isolated to just this past season, as he ranked sixth (among 290 wide receivers with 50 or more targets) in yards per route run (3.52) in 2019 as well. Smith has the upside to operate as a team’s alpha for many seasons to come.
DeVonta Smith’s Weaknesses
- Yards after the Catch
The first thing mentioned when discussing Smith is his slender frame (6-foot-1, 175 pounds). Because of this, if (or when) Smith succeeds, he’ll be an outlier because of his build. Since 2000, 15 wide receivers have been drafted inside the top two rounds of the NFL draft who stand 6-foot-1 or shorter and weighing 180 pounds or less:
This is a varied list littered with more misses than hits. Smith will be an exception and not the rule if he pays off on his lofty draft capital.
In conjunction with the talk of his frame, Smith can be a productive player, but he’s likely not going to be near the top of the NFL in yards after the catch. With consideration to his build, Smith excels at the catch point because of his strong and sure hands, but breaking tackles is not an area he will ever shine at. In 2020, Smith was ranked 20th in yards after the catch per reception (8.2). Among 43 non-running backs with 50 or more receptions, Smith was tied for 25th in avoided tackles (10) on receptions.
Who will draft DeVonta Smith in the first round?
- Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have DeVante Parker in-house, serving as the de facto alpha wide receiver right now. Parker will be 28 entering the 2021 season and can be cut, saving the team 3.5 million against the cap as early as 2022. If the team is going to give Tua Tagovailoa a shot to entrench himself as their quarterback of the present and the future, they can start by equipping him with his former Alabama teammate.
- Detroit Lions: The Lions could have a wide receiver barren cupboard entering 2021 unless they franchise tag Kenny Golladay. Detroit’s first-round plans are a wild card in this draft, as the depth chart has plenty of needs, so this team could justify nearly any approach.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Staying with the former Alabama teammate trend I’ve cultivated here, Jalen Hurts needs playmakers to throw to. Yes, this team spent a first-round pick on Jalen Reagor last season, but adding another skilled receiver to this depth chart makes sense even if Hurts isn’t your long-term answer.
- New York Giants: Daniel Jones needs help in New York. This past season, Jones had a litany of oft-injured slot receivers (yes, I’m tossing Evan Engram in here) and Darius Slayton to throw to. If the Giants believe Smith can be a true WR1, this is likely his floor in the draft at pick 11.