At talent-rich Ohio State, Devin Smith got on the field from the jump, earning playing time as a true freshman in 2011 and recording 14 catches for 294 yards. In 2012, he became a full-time starter, totaling 30 catches for 618 yards and six scores, one of which was a highlight-reel worthy one-handed catch in the season opener vs. Miami (Ohio).
The following season, as a junior, he collected twelve starts, amassing a career-high 44 receptions for 660 yards and eight scores, and taking home All-Big Ten Honorable Mention laurels. As a senior, Smith played in all 15 games, starting eleven, and caught 33 balls for 931 receiving yards (a hefty 28.2 yards per catch), and a Big Ten-leading 12 TDs (three of them against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game) - again receiving All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors.
Smith's best attribute is his speed - the kind of rare speed that opposing defenses must respect on every play. He was the Ohio high school state champion in the 100-meter dash (10.56), and uses his deluxe wheels to stretch the field on vertical routes against terrified defensive backs. Indeed, observers believe that he would have had more than twelve TD catches during the 2014 season if he didn't have to slow down and wait on throws so often.
Smith has the feet and hips to become a good route runner. Plus, he's a Dwayne Harris replacement, with demonstrated excellence as a gunner on kick coverage teams. That said, he's not a finished product. Smith still needs to learn his craft and improve his hands and ability to run the rest of the route tree as well as he does the nine route. Even though he needs polish to become fully realized at the next level, the "you can't coach speed" proverb reigns, and he could prove to be a dynamic weapon for the team that drafts him.
Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his measurables:
|6' 0"||196||31"||9"||4.42||1.56||10||39"||122"||-NA-||4.15||120.1 (65.1)
And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:
In a class filled with big receivers, the 6' 0" Smith looks like a child. But he plays a big man's game; over at Draft Breakdown, they have four of Smith's tapes, all from 2014, and all pretty impressive. Check him out versus conference rivals Michigan State (6-129 and a score), Wisconsin (4-137, 3 TDs) and Illinois (3-72, 2 TDs), as well as versus in-state rival Cincinnati (4-67, 2 TDs). Judging by these, he's a baaaaad cat.
Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Smith:
Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 7th-ranked WR; 33rd overall:
Separation Skills: Quick starter with top-end speed to take top off defense. Savvy vertical route-runner. Uses subtle shoulder/head bobs to set up moves and to help generate separation. Does an impressive job of using body to establish positioning and shield defender from ball. Drops weight in a flash on hitch-and-stick routes. Explosive transition on speed-out. Has the tools to be a more complete route-runner if he paid attention to detail and worked harder on refining routes. Very much capable of getting in and out of breaks quickly, but inconsistent in doing so on tape. Also some questions about his ability to pick up new concepts and recognize coverages as quickly and effectively as many NFL teams require.
Ball Skills: Excels at tracking deep ball. Locates and adjusts over his shoulder as well as any receiver in this class. Very good body control. Shows ability to contort body in air. Outstanding leaping ability and usually times his jumps very well. Can pluck over head. More reliable on short and intermediate routes in 2014 than earlier in career, but still see too many body catches and double catches. Can fight the ball at times on quicker-hitting routes. Inconsistent focus in traffic.
Big play ability: Elite vertical threat. Outstanding initial burst off the line and has a clear second gear to get over the top of cover corners. Quick transition upfield after catch. Shows good initial burst and can go the distance if he hits a crease. But not an overly elusive open-field runner and his field vision (namely navigating through traffic) is below-average. Not a strong runner after catch and won't break many tackles.
Competitiveness: Question his toughness at times working middle of field. Usually gets in position as a blocker but lacks strength and consistent effort sustaining. Whiffs on too many crack-back blocks. Excellent competitiveness when fighting for 50-50 ball.
Intangibles: No off-the-field issues. Comes from a supportive two-parent home. Described by scouts as being a bit of a class clown. Work habits could be more consistent.
Matt Waldman (Rookie Scouting Portfolio) 8th-ranked WR:
Smith is a much more promising receiver from an all-around skill perspective than many characterize. He demonstrates multiple types of release moves and uses his hands and feet in concert. Smith flashes violent hands when releasing off the line. Compared to more heralded peers, Smith is not afraid to take deep steps off the line of scrimmage to set up his releases. This is a huge asset of his deep speed, because he's always selling the vertical concept.
As a route runner, he can sink his hips and begin a hard break with one step. Smith is fast, but also has short-area quickness that he applies well as a short-range receiver. In addition to finding open space, he attacks the ball out of breaks and shields defenders with his position while maintaining good route depth.
Smith's ball tracking and competitiveness at the catch-point are excellent. He catches the ball with his hands and he's comfortable with physical play with his back to the defender. He uses good technique for high and low targets and he can make difficult adjustments against tight coverage or with his back to the ball....If he can get both hands to converge on the point of the ball in these situations a little more often, he'll be tough to stop.
After the catch, Smith has a dynamic first move to make the initial defender miss. He's also smart about how to earn yards in tight spaces. He often displays a willingness to dive for yards when he runs out of time or space to use his feet. Smith is also willing to get the pads low and finish with a physical demeanor, splitting a defense in the secondary. He protects the ball well with either arm...
Smith needs to refine his releases, execute hard breaks with greater consistency, and learn to tell more compelling stories with the pacing and nuance of his stems. He also has to improve his run blocking. I'm confident he'll address both areas and develop into a starter capable of leading his team in receiving, but he may be ideally suited as a WR2 in an offense that can use him all over the field.
Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 8th-ranked WR; 48th overall:
Strengths: Smooth speed merchant with instant gas off the line. Has outstanding body composure and an effortless stride. Electrifying foot quickness. Game-breaking speed with necessary feel of a downfield receiver. Tracks the throw over his shoulder and never breaks stride in the chase. Averaged 28.2 yards per catch and 54.5 percent of his catches were for 25-plus yards in 2014. Used outside and from slot. Must be matched by speed on defense or with safety over the top. Uses shoulder dip from inside release to avoid being redirected by slot corner. Speed creates uncontested targets for him underneath. Can snap off dig routes and open immediately. Good luck giving chase to Smith on a crosser or speed-out in the red zone. Might have been the best gunner in college football.
Weaknesses: Lacks natural, soft hands. Will double catch and corral throws into body. Tries to catch, turn and run before securing the throw. Shows a lack of patience in his routes. Game too heavily reliant upon speed. Must learn to be effective when deep ball is restricted by defense. Thin hips and frame. Play strength is below average. Can be frustrated by physical corners. Gets jostled and distracted when bodied hard down the field. Desire lacking as run blocker. Often taken off field and replaced when Buckeyes wanted to run out of "11" personnel.
NFL Comparison: DeSean Jackson
Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 9th-ranked WR:
Strengths: Legit vertical speed to be a "go route" tormentor - averaged one touchdown every 4.0 catches in college...gliding strides to stretch the field with take-it-the-distance acceleration...plant-and-drive burst with strong cuts and lower body explosion...tracks very well, using body angles to box out and gain correct positioning downfield...quick hands to pluck, extending his catch radius beyond others with his size...acrobatic ballskills to make highlight-reel grabs...flexible joints with the body control to make natural adjustments...excellent special teams player and often the first down the field on punt coverages - gains free release and speeds down the field with conviction...starred for three years on the Ohio State track & field team - qualified for NCAA regionals with a 7-0.25 high jump, which ranks top-five in school history...finished among the FBS leaders in 2014 with a 28.2 yards per catch average (also a single season school record) and leaves Columbus fifth in school history in career receiving yards (2,503).
Weaknesses: Lean body type with wiry muscle tone...field fast with light feet, but looks mechanical when asked to move laterally...doesn't set up defenders in his routes and lacks diverse stem releases...wild footwork in his patterns and lacks control in his movements, making him most effective in a straight-line - unpolished as an underneath target and struggles to sink and separate in his breaks...inconsistent hands and drops too many easy throws with streaky focus...tracks the ball well, but late to adjust and attack if the ball doesn't hit him in stride...will get pushed around and too easily re-routed and knocked off his path...averaged only 2.2 catches per game as a senior and his limitations kept him from being an every-down receiver.
Although not everyone on our panel offers rankings, the consensus is that he's an early to middle second-round pick. So, that's where I'll slot him on my Cowboys "little board," while at the same time acknowledging that he is likely to go before they get on the clock at 60. Thus, as several shrewd observers have mentioned, he looks like a legitimate target should they trade back from #27 to the top of round two.
And what if he didn't and Dallas took him with the 60th pick? How would Ol' Rabble feel about this? Well, divided. In the 2013 draft, when they selected Terrance Williams, the Cowboys invited two other second-round receiver types to Valley Ranch: Nuke Hopkins and Markus Wheaton. Both have legit take-the-top-off-a-defense speed (Hopkins: 4.41; Wheaton 4.40). If we look at Dallas' offense, we see quality everywhere; what we don't see a lot of is speed (one of the reasons why I think they'll continue to value Lance Dunbar).
So, while I certainly wouldn't see a WR as the optimal second-day addition, I will allow that he would provide an element in shorter-than-ideal supply in the Cowboys' offense: pure speed. Since the threat such speed poses tends to open up the middle of the field, I'm all for them acquiring some, so the Beasleys and the Wittens of the roster can come out to play. I would just hope that it comes a bit later in the selection process.
Next up: Stanford WR Ty Montgomery