2021 NFL Draft Summer Scouting: DeVonta Smith is first-round talent

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith is a first-round talent and should go early in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Alabama Crimson Tide have produced some stars at the wide receiver over the past decade. Julio Jones has been excellent since he was drafted in 2011 and is regarded by some as the best in the game right now. Atlanta drafted Calvin Ridley back in 2018, and he’s produced two solid seasons as a number two for the Falcons. In the 2020 draft, both Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III were first-round picks, continuing the string of Alabama studs.

When it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft, two more Bama receivers could end up in the first round. Here, we will talk about DeVonta Smith, who decided to return for his senior season to be the elder statesman in the receiver room.

Smith enjoyed a fantastic season with the Crimson Tide in 2019, and it’s even more impressive considering he was playing with three other potential first-round picks. His numbers were excellent (68 catches, 1,256 yards, 14 touchdowns) and he had some outrageous games, including a 274 yard, five-touchdown performance against Mississippi.

Let’s dive into an early scouting report and highlight why he’s firmly in the first-round discussion.

Strengths

The first thing that stands out with Smith is how smooth he is in and out of breaks as a route runner. Smith has a very diverse route tree and can win vertically and horizontally in the passing game. He succeeds most with the slant route and can create separation with comeback routes after selling vertically.

Smith has a wicked jab step release to create initial separation and space and has the ability to maintain separation throughout his routes. When he’s working vertically, he shows good hand technique to swipe away contact and has long strides to separate later in the route and stack defenders.

Smith also had the best hands on the Alabama squad in 2019. He’s a natural hands-catcher and routinely catches away from his frame. He plucks the ball out of the air effortlessly and has no problem catching through contact. Smith also high points the football well and displays good body control.

While he may not be the most dynamic after the catch, Smith does possess some long speed to turn a slant route into a touchdown and has the agility to make the first defender miss in space.

Lastly, Smith produced so well in the SEC, which has some of the best defensive backs in the country. He beat stud freshman corner Derek Stingley a number of times last season and had his way with South Carolina’s duo of Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu. He also created separation against 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, so level of competition is a box checked for DeVonta Smith.

Weaknesses

There isn’t much that Smith can’t do, so the weaknesses are few and far between as a 2021 NFL Draft prospect. The biggest question mark surrounding him will be his frame. Smith’s game is predicated on gaining initial separation and keeping it, and while he shows the technical ability to win through contact, transitioning to the NFL will be a bigger challenge.

While his ball skills are good, winning in contested spots won’t be something Smith can hang his hat on at the next level. It’s in his best interest to bulk up a bit for the 2020 season or at least when he’s drafted next spring.

Projection

From what the tape shows, there’s no reason Smith shouldn’t enter the 2020 season in the top five of most wide receiver boards. He is pretty well-rounded and can create separation with ease. It will be interesting to see if Smith can produce with Mac Jones at quarterback, but with two first-rounders out of the picture, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Smith should hear his name called pretty early in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he will receive a first-round grade from this writer as summer grades are rolled out.