This week, Alex takes a look at the 2020 Heisman winner, WR Devonta Smith. In 2020, Smith led the NCAAF in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (second in total touchdowns, behind only his Alabama teammate, Najee Harris) and had unbelievable performances, including a three touchdown, 215 yard showing in the college football championship.
His speed, catch radius, and great hands combine to make a receiver with elite potential. This of course makes him WR1 on any 2021 draft board, but with such a high placement on the board comes more attention, higher scrutiny, and heavier criticisms.
The most common critique leveled at the young star is his lack of weight and small frame. Devonta Smith refused to weigh in at the Senior Bowl, which has many scouts really concerned about his weight. His last weigh in put him at 175 lbs, which for context is ten pounds lighter then Tyreek Hill’s last weigh in. His play style draws a ton of comparisons to Antonio Brown, who also weighs in at 185, so he is under sized for sure.
However, Alex argues in this video that Devonta Smith’s strengths, his football IQ and ability to readjust, set him apart and allows him to overcome and look past his weakness.
Devonta Smith’s arsenal of football moves runs deep, with a different release for almost every single play imaginable. These releases, combined with his route movements, let him buy space from coverage players, taking his size out of the equation and putting him in position to make big plays. Alex compares his line releases to Davante Adams, but his route breaks can be compared to Julio Jones (the way they time their breaks in slant and post routes are eerily similar).
One thing that is evident in the video but is not highlighted is Devonta Smith’s willingness to go to the middle of the field. Despite his size, Smith will fearlessly come sprinting into safety and linebacker territory to make a play, despite the elevated risk of taking a big hit. He is competitive and courageous enough to put his body on the line, which should make him a high value target for any team.
However, when put in press coverage, Devonta Smith’s size does finally come back to beat him. He struggle to get away from defenders and often gets locked up at the line of scrimmage. In the NFL that is going to be an even bigger issue, since the corner backs in the league are extremely physical.
However, Devonta Smith has the tools to overcome that weakness. Beating press starts with the feet, which is obviously a strength of Smith’s (although he is even too small for the blade release, the most common release utilized to beat press coverage). The next step is upper body and hand fighting, which Smith struggles with (if you have no weight behind your hands, there is no power and then you are just throwing pool noodles around), but with one of the league’s best trainers putting together a “bulk-up” program for Smith, that should not be an issue for very long.
Overall, the decision that Alex comes to is that, where Devonta Smith might be a top 15 pick, he is still a bit of a project. He is going to be successful, especially with his football knowledge, but his current lack of versatility may keep him from being an elite receiver early in his career.