DeVonta Smith – Alabama – 6’1″ 175 lbs. – 11/4/98 (22 years old)
Quite possibly the most divisive wide receiver in the 2021 class. Those of you who watch college football have already seen DeVonta Smith and may wonder how a Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver could be divisive. Well, in the dynasty football community, there are the numbers people and the film people, and never shall the 2 meet. No, that’s a lie, hopefully everyone is using a good mix of both, but everyone has their leanings. The numbers people will tell you that he’s too light for his height (BMI), and they don’t like his 3rd year breakout or that he returned for his senior season. Meanwhile, the film community (myself included) see so much football goodness on tape that we can’t understand the concerns.
- Smart player that understands where he needs to get on the field.
- Can line up in the slot or split out wide, used on screens and end arounds as a regular part of the game plan. He also had some involvement on special teams as he returned a few punts and kicks his senior season and was used on the hands team for onside kicks.
- Not afraid to get out and block. Not a WR that will hold up a defender, but can buy a little time.
- Good eye and timing for breaks in routes vs man or zone.
- Finds a way to create extra yardage toward the first down or the end zone by side stepping, lunging forward, or whatever else it takes.
- Doesn’t have the size to overpower and push through defenders. Has to gain the extra yardage using speed and shiftiness.
- Actively fights back to the ball, not just as part of his route.
Here’s just one example of DeVonta making the smart play. Runs his route, and was open when he makes the turn on the comeback route. He sees the underneath defender breaking toward the ball and works back to the ball, through the defender rather than just sitting and waiting for the ball to get to him.
- Hands are terrific. Grabs the ball out away from his body. Can make the catch coming back to the ball, across the field, or over the shoulder.
- Locates the ball quickly and can easily adjust to off target throws anywhere on the field.
- Body control to get his feet down on the sideline or in the end zone.
- Can run any route.
- Quick enough to get the corner on end arounds.
- Fast enough to get over the top down the field.
- Uses speed variation well to keep defenders off balance.
- Breaks in and out of routes with ease.
- Some of the crossing routes are a little too rounded at times, but should be a minor adjustment with the breaks he shows on other routes.
- Threat to go over the top buys him some space for underneath and comeback routes.
- Deceivingly fast, and defenders seem to misjudge it. Glides on the field.
Back shoulder catch with a throw that’s just a little outside, no problem for DeVonta. Makes the adjustment, grabs the ball outside of his frame with ease, and gets both feet down.
- Timing is excellent on routes.
- Also times up his jumping to high point the ball.
- Not afraid to go over the middle or leap for a ball knowing a defender is waiting for him.
- Strong enough to hold on to the ball through contact and through the ground.
Here’s DeVonta going against zone coverage. He finds the space in between the defenders. The under corner bites just slightly toward the underneath, outbreaking WR and gives DeVonta the space to go between them.
- Can get hung up on physical corners, but still finds a way to get open.
- Has strong ball skills that aid him in tougher matchups. Doesn’t only rely on creating space or being physical, can use either when he needs to.
- Not overly physical at the point of reception. Doesn’t body defenders or get overly handsy, but uses them wisely to create enough space to make the catch
- Can jump up and over DBs to compete for the high ball.
2 great catches vs LSU showing DeVonta’s timing, hands, late separation, and leaping ability. Could argue that neither route is great, but does it matter?
People against DeVonta tend to look at his size along with his late breakout age and his 4 year career as a statistical negative against Mr. Smith. While these are concerns that have statistically been a negative for players, it is not a end all be all. His body mass index (BMI), which is essentially a player’s weight for his height, is a concern by the numbers. However, if you watch him on the field, he’s never had an issue where his size limited his receiving abilities. As I mentioned above, he’s not somebody who’s just going to run over somebody in the open field, but it’s not something that hindered him running routes or getting open in college like some other lighter WRs.
There are examples of 4th year WRs that have been quite productive at the NFL level. I will say, as you get to more recent times, there are less, but part of that is the increasing number of players making the jump after only 3 seasons. The late breakout/4th year is a concern as people worry that as a player has matured, they may just be physically dominating less mature competition. For DeVonta, I would suggest that he’s been at one of the elite college programs. During his time there, he had to share the field with Calvin Ridley, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Irv Smith Jr. and Jaylen Waddle among others, who were all drafted first round in the NFL. These aren’t exactly players to be ashamed of losing playing time to in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
His February ADP is #6 in rookie drafts. When it’s all said and done, I’d say that’s likely around where he lands for me in the overall, but I’ve also seen him drop to the back end of the first more than he should. I’m fading the noise and drafting him with confidence.