NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the ninth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
During the 2019 college football season, Alabama featured the most talented receiver group I've ever seen since my scouting career began back in 2003. Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy were both selected in the top 15 this past spring, and they were flanked by two other potential future first-round picks. One of those players was DeVonta Smith, who led the group in yards and touchdowns. I recently studied his game. Here is my scouting report:
Height, weight: 6-foot-1, 175 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 68 receptions for 1,256 yards (18.5 average) and 14 touchdowns.
Game tape watched: All of his targets during the 2019 season.
What I liked: Smith is a smooth, fluid route runner with outstanding body control, hands and toughness. He can play inside or outside and uses his quickness to routinely defeat press coverage. He understands how to set up defenders and can sink his weight at the top of the route to efficiently get in/out of his breaks. He does a really good job working back down the route stem to the quarterback.
He has outstanding concentration and hands to finish in traffic. He can pluck the low ball off his shoes, reach back for balls on the back hip or high point the ball down the field -- and he does it all so smoothly and effortlessly. After the catch, he is extremely elusive, consistently making the first defender miss. Also, despite his lean frame, he is surprisingly strong enough to break tackles on the perimeter. His run-after-catch skills are featured with several quick screens and fly sweeps in the Crimson Tide offense.
Where he needs to improve: The only real knocks on Smith are his lean frame and lack of elite top speed. That being said, he plays much bigger and stronger than his body type would suggest. For durability purposes, it would be nice to see him add 10 pounds, but I believe he can be an effective pro at his current weight. My sources at Alabama expect him to run the 40-yard dash in the low 4.5s, with the potential to sneak into the high 4.4s. That doesn't place his speed in the special category, but it's plenty fast enough for me. Most of the top receivers in the NFL today were clocked in the 4.5s coming out of college (Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams, to name a few).
Biggest takeaway: In a group loaded with NFL talent, Smith always finds a way to make the important play for the Tide. That goes back to his freshman season, when he hauled in the walk-off TD in the national championship game against Georgia. In last year's biggest game, Smith did his best to keep 'Bama within striking distance against LSU with seven catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He's the only player I've seen get the best of Derek Stingley Jr., having beaten LSU's star corner a handful of times in that shootout. I love guys who play big in big moments. That's what Smith has always done.
He reminds me of: I couldn't find an obvious comparison in today's NFL. However, I did see some glimpses of Marvin Harrison while studying Smith. 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. I think Harrison was more sudden and explosive, but Smith's playing style is quite similar. I will give Smith the nod in one area: I believe he's more physical than Harrison. (Coaches at Alabama think Smith could start for them at cornerback.) Let's be real: I'm not expecting Smith to produce Harrison's gaudy numbers at the next level, but I do believe he has Pro Bowl potential, provided he lands in the right spot with the right support.