A successful deep ball feels so damn good. We know the feeling all too well. One of the many facets of 89's repertoire was (is) his innate ability to win vertically, oft capped by either a Jake Delhomme drop in the bucket (lol) or, if needed, Smitty flexing his breath-taking bounce and sheer strength. Rules and regulations.
Devin Smith of Ohio State is endowed with some Smitty-esque qualities.
Before you scroll to the comment section, please know that my insinuation was not that Devin Smith is, or even projects to be Steve Smith at the next level, but Devin's gifted with the ability to beat defenses vertically, and despite underwhelming size, play above the rim quite viably to say the least. Those are the specific traits that had me reminiscent of Smitty, and that is the foundational skillset that will allow him to be an immediately effective receiving threat in the NFL, and could be the perfect complementary piece to last year's 1st round selection, Kelvin Benjamin.
Like I said, Devin Smith has the innate ability to attack secondaries vertically. The people that claim him to be overrated are, in my estimation, making the mistake of undervaluing the unconditional translatability he offers in that area, or making the mistake of pigeonholing him as a "one-trick pony".
Dev's far from perfect, and he didn't just run go-routes every play in Columbus and he won't in the league. But in order to effectively dissect the value he offers as a prospect, we must first take an extensive look at his specialty, and at least attempt to determine whether or not, he'll be as potent in the pros in this area.
This play all but epitomizes the beauty of Devin Smith as a receiver prospect. It's "all-goes" for Ohio State with Dev lined up in the slot, and without any safety help, his only responsibility is to get over the top of the slot corner, Sojourn Shelton (a true soph. at the time who is no slouch) who offers him 10 yards of cushion. Dev knows exactly what he has to do and has the instincts to improvise down the field.
Off the snap, Dev exhibits his burst, acceleration, and pure speed to devour the cushion he's served. Shelton has the audacity to award him with a second serving: the middle of the field. Rather than allowing Shelton to continue playing the QB and track the throw with his shoulders parallel with, and head facing opposite the sideline, Dev teases him with an exiguous and gradual curve toward the middle of the field and improvises, making use of his explosiveness. Shelton was simply caught over-committing, under the assumption Smith was gratefully accepting his offering. Dev made him look silly, turning him completely around with an abrupt cut back towards the corner of the end-zone. 360'd him.
Shelton recovers quite well but he has lost track of the football and the quarterback's eyes. He can't time his jump; he can't play the ball. Dev's prowess as a route runner has him in position, now it's time to finish the play. He locates the football almost immediately out of his break, shields his back to the defender, times his jump, secures the catch, and logs the 6.
Same game, same coverage, same route, same trick, different victim. You'd think they'd learn. This time Dev puts his Desean Jackson-esque tracking ability on display. He's superb at locating, tracking, and catching the football over his shoulder.
He torched Wiscy, logging 4 receptions for 137 yards. The 3 TD's he added were all verts that went for at least 39 yards each. After watching this game live, I was eager to see how Smith fared against different looks than single off-man. Knowing he can fire out of the gate, turn on the jets, and put DB's to shame mid-route, the next step in the evaluation of forte' process must be to verify if he can be just as effective getting deep when contested at the line of scrimmage.
Dev's not pressed here. Darius Mosely is simply tasked with mirroring Devin Smith step-for-step, lined up just a yard away from the line of scrimmage. Make no mistake about it, Mosely does a horrific job of doing so, but we can't discredit Dev for exemplifying sound release technique on this play.
He makes a neutral step, both feet parallel with the line of scrimmage, freezing Mosely. Shuffle and go. Dev leaves him in the dust. He knows how to take what's given, and his awareness is always augmented with his acceleration and speed.
This play resulted in a 32 yard touchdown. Textbook tracking, and a beautiful throw from J.T. Barrett. In this clip, I wanted to focus solely Dev's release by looping the release only.
For validation that Devin Smith can, indeed, go up and get it, despite his 6'0" 196 lb. frame:
Smith performed his skit with regularity as a Buckeye in varying alignments, against varying coverages. I discussed this stat in a recent article of mine but it's worth reiterating. Matt Harmon who writes for Backyard Banter has developed his own system of charting both pro and collegiate wide receivers called "Reception Perception" that is predicated on route tree percentage and SRVC or Success Rate Versus Coverage. In the 5 games Matt charted, Smith ran 74 routes, 28.4% of those routes were 9 routes on which Dev posted an absolutely absurd 90.5% SRVC. That is a number that proved to be unmatched by any receiver in his charting. No one came close.
More numbers: Graham Barfield, an #elite number-cruncher who writes for "Number Fire" logged all the top names in this year's receiver class' yards per target from the 2014 season. The average, average? 10.2 YPT. 2nd place? Another one of my guys: Chris Conley at 12.4 YPT. Dev? 19.4 YPT. The numbers speak for themselves.
Devin Smith had a statistically inimitable season as a deep threat. He has all the physical tools and has fundamentally perfected the craft of winning vertically.
Is he a one-trick pony, though?
As we all know, the best complement to a deep threat is suddenness. Urban Meyer knew when to expose defenses that were respectfully cheating deep and Devin Smith knows how to execute it: the curl route.
By this point in the game Devin Smith has already scored twice on the deep ball, and once again, he's faced with an off-man look from Sojourn Shelton. Wisconsin fears Dev at this point. Shelton is caught cheating as Smith takes off like a bat out of hell with eyes affixed on the end-zone before stopping on an absolute dime. It's an easy pass for Cardale Jones and an easy catch for Dev, and he proceeds to put Shelton to shame once again with the ball in his hands, picking up the 1st.
Goes, curls, stutters, hook-and-goes. Devin Smith is deadly in every aspect of the vertical stem. Like I said, you can't make the mistake of undervaluing that. Look no further than Desean Jackson to see how that translates.
There's no denying that Devin Smith ran a limited route tree at Ohio State -- confirmed in Matt Harmon's charting. But if it's not broke, why fix it? Rather than deeming him incapable of being a dynamic receiving threat, let's avoid jumping to conclusions. We know Dev's physically and mentally apt to run any route successfully. He's speedy, twitchy, understands depth concepts, and knows how to improvise.
What limits Devin Smith is very similar to what limits Desean Jackson. They're eerily similar as players. Both are limited due to relatively wiry frames. Bigger, more physical corners are their kryptonite when being pressed. I worry less about Devin in this area because he outweighs D-Jax by 20 lbs., and was terrific as a gunner on special temas. He needs to concentrate on his hand-fighting technique early on.
Like Jackson, Smith tracks the ball over his shoulder extremely well -- this we've discussed. But neither have the softest of hands. Dev does not have brick hands, and he looks quite natural catching the ball away from his body, but the ball often bounces upon contacts with his mitts, often leading to double-catches. He won't always be as lucky in the league.
He doesn't struggle with concentration drops on the deep ball. It seems, however, he may get a little too anxious when he's less aware of his surroundings with his back turned to the end-zone -- prematurely turning his head before hauling in passes. A concerning, yet correctable issue.
What separates Devin Smith and Desean Jackson most materially is what they're capable of with the ball in their hands. While I'd consider Dev adequate in this area, I'd consider D-Jax electrifying. Desean can change games as a punt returner. The only special teams action I want Dev seeing is as a gunner, which he did remarkably well at the college level.
Devin Smith can be so much more than a deep threat. He's not a situational player. He's a receiver with every-down ability that offers rare vertical skills. Dev's skillset is one that seems tailor-made for this offense, schematically and personnel-wise. We have yet to see Cam, at this stage in his career, with a formidable deep threat of Devin Smith's caliber. He's basically made due with minus-versions of him since Steve Smith's release.
Drafting Devin Smith with the 25th pick makes sense. Excluding our TE, how many receivers on this roster can we say consistently creates separation? While edge protector should undoubtedly be at the top of the needs list, reinforcing this receiving corps goes hand in hand. The ball coming out quick can compensate for poor protection and visa versa. If there's not a tackle there worth taking, I'll be banging the table ferociously for Devin Smith. He's a player that isn't for all 32 teams but fits like a glove in this offense. It would be a waste for a team like Kansas City to draft him, but here in Carolina or down in Atlanta or up in Baltimore, he'll be a stud, and people seem to think Ozzie Newsome agrees.
Maybe I'm an idiot, and Devin Smith won't get drafted until early day 3 but from what I've heard/read, Dev likely goes in the late-1st. The general consensus that I've gathered is that he'll be selected 26th overall to replace Torrey Smith in Baltimore.
I'm all for this bare correlation of receivers named Smith to approach the verge of coming full-circle by Gettleman stealing Devin from the Ravens. Are you?