Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith accomplished a lot over the past two seasons. He produced two 1,000-yard campaigns despite having two different quarterbacks take significant snaps. He produced an incredible 1,856 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns in 2020. He helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship while also winning the Heisman Trophy in the process.
If NFL teams are judging Smith on what he has accomplished, there’s no question that he should be a top-10 pick.
As we know, however, NFL teams don’t just look at a prospect’s proven production. Other factors always come into play, like potential upside, pro readiness, injury concerns and size.
If there’s one real concern that NFL teams could have about Smith, it is his size. He was listed at 6’1″ and 175 pounds in college, but the star pass-catcher recently revealed he isn’t quite that heavy.
“One seventy,” Smith said after being repeatedly asked about his weight by reporters, according to Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post.
It’s not just Smith’s weight that will likely raise eyebrows in NFL circles. Lighter receivers can and do thrive at the pro level. New Los Angeles Rams wideout DeSean Jackson has been tearing up NFL secondaries since 2008, and he’s only listed at 175 pounds.
However, Smith is three inches taller than Jackson and sports a lanky frame that has led to some calling him the “Slim Reaper.”
At least one or two teams will likely downgrade Smith because of his thin build. However, his size shouldn’t be a deal-breaker or enough to prevent him from being a top-10 selection. Here’s why.
Smith Has Already Shown His Size Isn’t A Hindrance
NFL teams can get themselves into trouble by focusing too heavily on what a player can’t do rather than what they can.
Russell Wilson wasn’t drafted until the third round largely because his 5’11” stature was never going to tower over NFL offensive linemen. Teams seemed to overlook the fact that the future Hall of Famer threw for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns with just four interceptions at Wisconsin his final college season.
While Smith isn’t going to suddenly bulk up and start bodying bigger NFL defensive backs, he’s still going to possess the same skill set that earned him the Heisman and a place in collegiate sports history.
Smith is a tremendous route-runner who can separate himself from coverage even when at a size disadvantage. Body control is also an asset, helping Smith to be a legitimate threat in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations.
While many smaller, faster receivers can struggle in tight spaces, that hasn’t been a major issue for Smith. According to Pro Football Focus, he logged 16 red-zone touchdowns over the past two seasons, second-most in college football:
PFF Draft @PFF_College
Most red zone touchdowns since 2019:
1. Jaelon Darden, N Texas – 17
2. DeVonta Smith, Bama – 16
3. Terrace Marshall Jr, LSU – 15
4. Kyle Pitts, Florida – 13 https://t.co/cgFSOjwWIt
But Smith is also exceptionally fast. Exactly how fast will remain unknown, as he has declared that he won’t do drills at his pro day. However, he regularly burned defenders for long touchdowns in college.
No receiver in this draft class had more 20-yard-plus touchdowns in his career than Smith, per Pro Football Focus:
PFF Draft @PFF_College
Most career 20+ yard touchdowns in the 2021 draft class:
1. DeVonta Smith – 17
2. Ja’Marr Chase – 16
3. Dyami Brown – 14
4. Tutu Atwell – 12 https://t.co/LAdqzNup7g
Game speed is more important than track speed, and Smith has loads of the former.
He has also proven himself against some of the highest levels of competition that college football has to offer. He’s excelled against the SEC and against the top teams in the College Football Playoff. In other words, Smith has been a dominant receiver against quality competition and elite in just about every category other than weight—it’s probably not even accurate to say “size” because his length and catch radius are tremendous.
There’s exactly one box that Smith doesn’t check, and that may not even be a major issue in today’s NFL.
Pro Passing Schemes Have Changed
Chiefs WR Tyreek HillCharlie Riedel/Associated Press
When searching for historical player comps for Smith, Marvin Harrison’s name came up frequently.
“I couldn’t find an obvious comparison in today’s NFL. However, I did see some glimpses of Marvin Harrison while studying Smith,” NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah wrote. “I hate comparing college kids to Hall of Famers, but Smith and Harrison have several things in common: lean builds, crisp route-running, excellent hands and toughness.”
From a size standpoint, the comparison is apt. Harrison was roughly 6’0″ and 181 pounds coming out of college. He rarely struggled against NFL competition, but he entered the league back in 1996. The game has changed quite a bit since then.
However, some changes should actually benefit Smith. Defenders are largely faster and more physical than they were in Harrison’s heyday—athletes, in general, have advanced over the last 20 years—but NFL offenses have evolved too.
Rather than forcing players into pro-style schemes, teams are more open to adapting to college concepts. Spread formations, run-pass options and uptempo pacing are all frequently used to get receivers in space.
Once in space, size really isn’t a disadvantage for a smaller receiver. Take Kansas City Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill, for example. He’s only 5’10” and 185 pounds, but he’s one of the game’s most unstoppable weapons when he can get past the five-yard contact window.
This isn’t to suggest that Smith possesses the same world-class speed that Hill has, but he can be a similar difference-maker for a team that can get him into space, something to which NFL Media’s Bucky Brooks recently alluded.
Bucky Brooks @BuckyBrooks
Devonta Smith is super skilled as a WR. He’s a superb route runner with exceptional body control and sticky hands. The size is a concern but a creative play designer could move him around to create all kinds of problems for defenses at the next level #NFLDraft
There is, of course, the question of whether Smith can take the physicality of the pro level at his weight, but again, the modern game gives him an advantage.
The league has recently placed a lot of emphasis on limiting contact at the catch point. Flags aren’t just thrown for helmet-to-helmet contact; they’re regularly tossed for any forceful hit on a “defenseless receiver.”
Smith will still have to protect himself after the catch, but concerns about going up for a pass only to be taken out by a headhunting safety are largely a thing of the past.
So, if teams shouldn’t be overly concerned about Smith’s ability to stay on the field and make plays at the pro level, the only real question is whether he’ll have a market at the top of the draft.
Smith Should Garner Top-10 Interest
Steve Helber/Associated Press
If Smith falls outside of the top 10, it likely won’t be because of his ability or his weight. An early run on quarterbacks could potentially push receiver-needy teams out of the top 10, especially if trades are involved.
However, at least four teams should be interested in taking a wide receiver at the top of Round 1—possibly five if the New York Jets decide to stick with Sam Darnold at quarterback. The Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins all need legitimate No. 1 receivers, while the Cincinnati Bengals could be in the wideout market after losing A.J. Green in free agency.
There’s a very real chance that two receivers will go in the top 10, which is relevant since not everyone views Smith as the top wideout prospect in this class.
ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, for example, believes that LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase is the superior prospect.
“This guy is the next Larry Fitzgerald with the body control, the contested catches, the way he runs his routes. He’s absolutely fantastic. I would take Ja’Marr,” Orlovsky said, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts could also be in the top-10 conversation, especially after running a 4.46-second 40, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.
However, there are several scenarios that could see multiple pass-catchers go in the top 10 with Smith among them. The Dolphins could look to reunite him with former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the third pick. The Bengals could look to reunite Chase with Joe Burrow at No. 5 and leave Smith to be gobbled up within the next few selections. The Jets could even pass on a quarterback and start the run on pass-catchers at No. 2.
Smith is a top-10 prospect—he’s actually No. 5 on Bleacher Report’s big board—and being a little lighter than expected shouldn’t change that. Come April 29, he should also be a top-10 selection.
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