There might not be a more polarizing prospect in this year’s NFL Draft than Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith. After being the first WR to win the Heisman Trophy since Michigan’s own Desmond Howard in 1991, Smith’s stock was at an all-time high. He was widely thought of as a lock for a top-five pick after leading the nation with 1,856 receiving yards—the next closest player almost 700 yards behind him. For DeVonta Smith, the talent is there, but the concerns sometimes overshadow the positives.
The main concern surrounding Smith is his thin frame. On the school’s website, Alabama had him listed at a mere 175 pounds, which is already extremely light for the position. During medical checks for NFL prospects in Indianapolis recently, Smith weighed in even lighter at 166 pounds. For a six-footer, the weight concerns are warranted, and you wonder whether it’s even possible that he can put on the desired weight at the NFL level.
As a result, not many media outlets have Smith as one of the top-two receivers in this class anymore. In a year where teams have much less to work with in terms of being able to do their due diligence on prospects, it only makes sense that riskier prospects are going to take a fall.
Why DeVonta Smith?
On the field, you’d be hard-pressed to find any real negatives to Smith’s game. He might look small, but he plays big. In 2020, Smith led all of college football with 618 receiving yards after contact.
Devonta Smith Scores on this play pic.twitter.com/6QTbs9cTrF— Ray G (@RayGQue) April 24, 2021
Many will claim that Smith’s stats are inflated and point to the fact that he led the country in screen passes and screen yards, but he also led the nation in deep catches (15) and deep yards (589). A large part of that is due to his nuanced releases and elite ball skills. Despite his lack of size, Smith was one of the top receivers in the country against press-man coverage. He also had one of the highest PFF receiving grades against man-coverage in the nation (96.1). Smith’s ability to go up and grab the ball in contested situations at a 50-pound disadvantage is inhuman.
Take a look at @DeVontaSmith_6 vs press coverage— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) April 21, 2021
Route running will always be more important than weight!@ESPNNFL @TorreySmithWR @MoveTheSticks @AlabamaFTBL @RollTide pic.twitter.com/dzAStbVvuT
Let’s take a look at Smith’s route running, arguably the best trait he has to offer. It normally takes years for young receivers to perfect the details of creating separation, but Smith already offers an advanced understanding of what it takes to get open at all levels of the field.
Separating in the intermediate comes down to fluid route breaks, processing/defeating leverage and pacing. Devonta Smith is an advanced route runner #NFLDraft: pic.twitter.com/1u9nuW3jE4— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) May 15, 2019
So why DeVonta Smith and not the other top receiving prospects in the draft? Well, every pick made in the NFL Draft is not without risk, and if I’m going to bet on one receiver in this draft, I’m putting my money on Smith. You’re not going to find another WR in this draft matching the pure talent that he showcases.
How he fits with Detroit
If selected, Smith would be an immediate upgrade to their WR corps and could start Day 1 as one of their top receiving options. Ideally, Smith can handle multiple roles (Z, X or slot). As a Z receiver, Smith can use the extra space to his advantage lining up off the LOS. I also trust him as an X receiver on the line of scrimmage, as he proved he can handle the role despite being surrounded with other first-round receivers that were much bigger than him at Alabama. Smith was also extremely effective in the slot with Alabama, which should translate to the next level. Put him anywhere and he will get his.
Smith’s ability to create separation at all three levels of the field is unparalleled. It reminds me of how the Lions were able to utilize Golden Tate, but I like Smith a lot more in the intermediate/deep areas of the field.
DeVonta Smith immediately upgrades a position of need and provides an elite playmaker for their new QB, Jared Goff. Don’t overthink it. Draft DeVonta Smith.