For the better part of Cowboys training camp, the consensus was that the sixth wide receiver roster spot on the 53-man roster spot would come down to the likes of Cedrick Wilson, Jalen Guyton, Jon’Vea Johnson, and Reggie Davis. Pro Bowler Amari Cooper, rising second-year wideout Michael Gallup, and veteran Randall Cobb are locks. The staff also likes Tavon Austin’s versatility as a receiver and return man. The team also likes Noah Brown’s ability to block and be physical, so he could grab a spot if he can get healthy.
One name pushing for one of those final spots has seemingly come out of nowhere.
Devin Smith, who was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason after being cut by the New York Jets, has used both training camp and preseason game action to bolster his case to make the roster. From creating separation from defensive backs to coming down with a nice touchdown reception in week two of the preseason, there has been a lot to like from the 2015 second-round draft pick.
We decided to go into the film room and see what Devin Smith could potentially bring to the Dallas Cowboys offense, if he carries the momentum that he has already built into a roster spot come September 1.
At Ohio State, Smith was known as one of the most electrifying deep threats in all of college football. His blend of 4.42 speed and route-running helped him fly by cornerbacks and safeties week-in and week-out. As a result, the Buckeyes product averaged over 20 yards per reception during his four seasons in Columbus — including a whopping 28.2 YPC average to go along with 12 touchdown receptions as a senior.
Smith averaged over 28 yards per reception and scored 12 touchdowns during his senior season in Columbus before being drafted 37th overall by the Jets in 2015. pic.twitter.com/8Gow83GASk— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) August 19, 2019
Coming out of college, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared Smith to a receiver that Cowboys fans are very familiar with: DeSean Jackson, who has established himself as one of the better deep threats in the game.
NFL COMPARISON DeSean Jackson
BOTTOM LINE Smith isn’t just combine-fast, he’s game-fast and he would have had more than 12 touchdown 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 much more than a deep-ball specialist and should be able to step right into a gunner spot on special teams. He still needs to learn his craft and improve his hands, but he has rare speed to score from anywhere on the field.
Ohio State loved to run the football — led by Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde early in Smith’s career before Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott eventually took over — but it was evident that the Buckeyes wanted to stretch the field to reduce the number in the box. There was nobody better to do just that than Smith.
Smith developed into one of the best deep threats in all of college football at OSU. His 4.42 speed allowed him to fly by DBs down the field. pic.twitter.com/9bYW2LrfMM— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) August 19, 2019
Perhaps the best game of Smith’s career was in the 2014 Big Ten Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers, where he and Cardale Jones absolutely embarrassed the Badgers’ secondary to the tune of nearly 140 yards and three scores.
One attribute that stands out about Smith is his ability to find the ball in the air and adjust his body to it. On this first clip, Smith eyes the ball in the air and turns his body to a position where only he was going to come down with it:
Devin Smith’s performance against Wisconsin in the 2014 Big 10 title game was insane:— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) August 19, 2019
-137 yards (34.3 YPC)
Look at him go get this ball: pic.twitter.com/6vp0uA1bz8
And on this next clip, Ohio State wasted no time to take a shot deep to Smith. Just two minutes into the game Smith came down with a 39-yard touchdown reception — despite a Badgers defender all over him. Again, Smith adjusted to the ball in the air and made sure that he was going to come down with it.
His ability to find the ball in the air and adjust to it was incredible.— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) August 19, 2019
(Also, look at Zeke going deep!) pic.twitter.com/LVVJmslsnp
Then in the next game, against Alabama in the College Football Playoffs, Smith made a pair of big plays against the highly talented Crimson Tide defensive backfield that consisted the likes of Eddie Jackson, Cyrus Jones, and Landon Collins. Smith, guarded by Jackson, flew down the field before hauling in a 47-yard touchdown to put the Buckeyes in front.
Devin Smith caught two passes for 87 yards against Alabama in the 2015 CFB Playoffs, including this 47-yard touchdown: pic.twitter.com/oveq1tOSg4— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) August 19, 2019
Smith did have some inconsistencies catching the ball and struggled with drops, but it was clear that he was a big play waiting to happen for Ohio State.
Urban Meyer loved to get Smith the ball in space, and he typically excelled in those scenarios. Here, the Buckeyes were able to get the ball out to their wide receiver on a quick pass, and he did the rest:
Ohio State also found ways to get Smith the ball in space and let him work. pic.twitter.com/SS3o0LmhC7— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) August 19, 2019
The NFL has been a different story for Devin Smith, though. Thanks to suffering a pair of ACL tears in his young career, the big play threat has yet to make an impact on the professional level. The Jets decided to move on from the Ohio State product last summer after Smith only made 10 receptions in 14 career games.
Smith was not an NFL roster until the Cowboys inked him to a reserve/future contract back in January — banking on that his talent would be a low-risk and potentially high-reward for the team.
The wide receivers competition has been murky — as many guys are all battling for, at most, two spots — but Smith has used preseason game action as an opportunity to separate himself from the pack.
There is one guy, though, who seems to be really creating some separation in this race, someone who has rarely been mentioned as a contender. Devin Smith has put together a nice couple of preseason games and may be starting to live up to his draft pedigree from long ago.
In two preseason games, Smith leads the Cowboys in receptions (6) and yards (78). He also has the Cowboys only touchdown through the air. He also did something in the 49ers game that no one else has been able to do, he briefly made Mike White look like an NFL quarterback.
Smith has been turning heads in the Cowboys’ first two preseason games, backing up some of the things that he has shown in training camp. Much like what we saw Smith do on the college level, he showed the ability to adjust to the football on this touchdown grab from Cooper Rush.
It remains to be seen if Devin Smith can continue this kind of play during the final two weeks of the preseason — or if that would be even enough to overtake, say, Noah Brown for a spot on the roster — but it is certainly encouraging to see Smith living up to at least some of his draft pedigree.
There is hope that Kellen Moore will take advantage of stretching the field as he is now in charge of the offense. We all know what a healthy Amari Cooper can do and it appears that Dak Prescott and Michael Gallup are on the same page heading into the season, as well.
Devin Smith has the ability to potentially add a dynamic to this offense in spurts as a rotational guy as well — provided, of course, that he can stay healthy and that his preseason success translates to the regular season.
Initially lost in a pack of wideouts all vying for a roster spot, Devin Smith is doing his best to make it as difficult as possible for the coaching staff to say no to him.