DeVonta Smith is the best, most complete wide receiver prospect the NFL has seen since A.J. Green or Larry Fitzgerald. Every conceivable metric shows him being a decade-plus franchise cornerstone at the position, and yet as we approach the draft it’s looking like he will be the third receiver off the board, fourth if you consider Kyle Pitts a receiver. Smith falling on draft day seems ridiculous, but it’s appearing more likely it’s going to happen. That says less about Smith as a player, and more about how the NFL is changing in front out of eyes.
The most incredible thing about Devonta Smith is his route running. We’ve seen polished receivers enter the league before, but nobody with the crispness, and raw talent of Smith when it comes to the nuances of playing wide receiver. We’re talking about a player who has skills similar to those of Fitzgerald or Marvin Harrison entering the league. This issue is that this kind of player has been devalued in the modern NFL.
Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle are both trending higher than Smith because of their sudden speed, and shiftiness. These are qualities that used to be reserved for slot receivers, but as the position has morphed now to where tall, big play receivers are put in the slot to match up against nickel corners, and taller, more physical edge defensive backs are being forced onto an island against these smaller receivers.
It’s not a dissimilar position to changes we’ve seen around the league to polarize the size vs. speed discussion and force mismatches. Players who can “do it all” aren’t being as highly valued as specialists with rare talents in one area. It’s unfair, but a reality of the league as it stands.
Teams are adjusting to shift of speed on the outside, size in the middle. Miami and Cincinnati, both figuring to take a receiver in the Top 10, are aiming to pivot to this way of thinking on offense. The issue is compounded by concerns that Smith is too lean at 174 pounds to keep up with the power of the league, even if his tape shows an ability to mix it up with defenders. It’s creating a scenario where Smith is getting lost in NFL purgatory. Not only will he fall lower than he deserves, but he has every ability to be a franchise cornerstone. That basic ability is getting lost in the conversation purely because he isn’t a prototypical big-man slot receiver, or a speedy outside player.
Why is DeVonta Smith so great?
There is nothing this man can’t do on offense. He has toughness to block when needed, he has shiftiness to avoid tacklers, he can catch anything thrown in his zip code using his body positioning as a tool to make life easier on a quarterback, and impossible for a defensive back.
There’s a reason Smith is in the rare company of a small number of wide receivers to have won the Heisman, and he deserves it.
It’s one thing to succeed at the college level, and another to completely take over games by yourself. That’s the kind of potential you see from Smith in the NFL, and while he might break from the direction the league is heading, it’s worth looking at him again and say “is it right to pass on a guy like this?” especially if you’re already looking at another name in the draft.
That’s not a knock on either Waddle or Chase. Both could be great in their own right, but nobody is better, or safer at their position than DeVonta Smith. Give it five years and people are going to be saying “how the hell was he the third WR taken?”