Devin Smith is a bit of a polarizing NFL prospect, as his name has been mentioned as a potential first-round pick, while some scouts view the former Ohio State deep threat as a bit of a one-trick pony. I dove into the tape to see if Smith has more to offer and if he could not only surprise on draft day, but once he hits an NFL field.
» Blazing speed
» Quick feet off the line and in routes
» Excellent at tracking the deep ball
» Surprising strength in contested catches
Some pundits were disappointed by Smith's 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine, but anyone who has put on Smith's tape knows that this kid has undeniable speed on the field. His opponents in college had to adjust accordingly when he was on the field, usually with safety help over the top (which was also often too slow). Smith's ability to get downfield in a hurry is aided by his quickness off the line of scrimmage, and he's equally adept at running out of the slot as he is on the boundary.
Considering Smith is only 6-foot, 193 pounds I was surprised to see how successfully he won contested catches. He showed a knack for high-pointing the ball, as well as using his body to shield defenders on underthrown deep passes. Moreover, Smith was phenomenal at locating, tracking and securing downfield passes of all varieties. Watch him haul in this difficult over-the-shoulder catch against Michigan State for a sampling. It's plays like this that helped Smith average over 28 yards per reception and a ludicrous 20.4 yards per target (h/t RotoViz).
» Lacks natural, soft hands
» Can be frustrated by physical corners
» Occasional concentration drops
» Doesn't add much in run blocking
Despite Smith winning plenty of contested catches, he had a habit of making more routine receptions look like circus acts by needing to catch them twice. He also had a few instances where he tried to turn and run with the football before securing the catch -- a common rookie mistake that he'll need to fix. Lastly, his smaller stature allowed him to be pushed around too often by more physical corners off the line and as a blocker in the run game. Plently of small receivers are excellent blockers (see Steve Smith and Randall Cobb, for instance), so Smith will need to show more tenacity in the NFL to get consistent playing time.
Fortunately for Smith, most of the knocks against him are correctable. He can improve his hands, strength, blocking and route-running with more time in NFL training camps and meeting rooms. They are all definitely still areas he needs to improve if he wants to be a game-changer at this level, but they aren't insurmountable obstacles.
Ideal NFL fantasy fits
The Ravens are desperately in need of new wide receiving talent and Joe Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the game. Why not go get Flacco the draft's best deep threat and let Smith learn under Steve Smith Sr. for a few years? Speaking of strong-armed signal-callers in need of new targets, it'd be great to see Smokin' Jay Cutler slinging the rock with reckless abandon to Smith on some go-routes in Chicago, too. Chip Kelly made beautiful fantasy music with his former speedy wide receiver in DeSean Jackson, and he could get a younger cheaper version of DJax in Smith come draft day.
Early fantasy draft projection
I like Smith as a sleeper option from this year's wide receiver draft class. While he still needs to refine parts of his game, I could definitely see a coach and quarterback finding ways to put Smith in favorable matchups early given his prowess in the deep game. Smith is a great Round 2 target in dynasty formats in 2015, and if he lands with the right team could be worth a late-round flier in redrafts as well.