Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith heads to the 2021 NFL Draft off the back of one of the most dominant pass-catching seasons we’ve ever seen at the college level. The first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991, Smith seemed destined to be one of the first players off the board in Cleveland. With the “Slim Reaper” weighing in at just 166 pounds this week, are weight concern rumors crushing his NFL Draft stock?
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DeVonta Smith goes from dominance to difficult decision in the NFL Draft
Pro Football Network’s Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline spoke with a source close to the Miami Dolphins organization about drafting a receiver that weighs in at under 170 pounds. Talking to PFN’s Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo on the April 21 episode of Draft Insiders, Pauline stated:
“Somebody said to me, someone close to the organization, they said when push comes to shove, they don’t know if Chris Grier is going to draft a receiver that’s under 170 pounds.”
The latest twist in the Smith saga comes after medical checks that took place in Indianapolis this week. The lanky pass catcher weighed in at a concerning 166 pounds, considerably less than his listed playing weight at Alabama. During the season, the Crimson Tide had him listed at 175 pounds, which is already on the light side for an NFL wide receiver. At the Alabama Pro Day, he weighed in at 170, raising some eyebrows. Now, those raised eyebrows are turning into genuine concerns, with the potential for Smith’s draft stock to fall.
It seems incredulous for weight even to be a factor for a player who racked up 1,856 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns last season. The previous year he amassed 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns despite being in a packed wide receiver room. Statistics should never be the main point of evaluation. However, Smith regularly turned in eye-catching performances and highlight-reel catches, while being able to win with speed and exceptional route-running ability.
Why does his size create such cause for concern at the NFL level?
He has the skill set to succeed in the NFL, so how does his weight remain such a topic of conversation? Pauline sheds some light on that particular question.
“The size is going to be a concern because, despite the fact he’s a terrific receiver, it dictates the way you’re going to be able to use him. You’re gonna have to put him in the slot. You’re going to have to keep him off of press coverage. He may not win out on contested throws the way he did at the college level. It’s more about system and scheme fit in that DeVonta Smith isn’t going to be a plug-in-and-play wide receiver that a Ja’Marr Chase is, that Rashod Bateman is, some of the other highly rated receivers are.”
Smith presents a problem because there haven’t, historically, been many receivers of his weight — more importantly his frame — selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The most recent example is Marquise Brown, who was around a similar weight coming out of Oklahoma. Although comparisons are difficult due to the nature of the Baltimore Ravens offense he finds himself in, Brown is yet to crack 1,000 yards in a season. Additionally, he has only averaged a 60.8 catch completion percentage through his two years in the NFL.
Does the Marvin Harrison comparison offer hope for Smith in the NFL?
Former Indianapolis Colts pass catcher and Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison is held up as a positive comparison of how Smith can succeed in the NFL. Harrison was a similar height to the Alabama wide receiver while also facing questions about his weight. As Wingo explains, however, Harrison had a weight advantage over Smith, and despite his success, still presented scheme difficulties.
“I was on a call earlier today with a bunch of former GMs, coaches, scouts from the NFL, including Bill Polian. He was there when Marvin Harrison blossomed and I asked him what are the realistic comparisons. He said from a weight perspective, we figured we could put five to seven pounds on a wide receiver of his stature when he got from college to the NFL. Harrison came in at 180 and played at 185-188, which is still not super big, but it’s still 10-12 pounds more than what we’re looking at with DeVonta Smith.”
From a scheme perspective, Polian also told Wingo: “We lined Marvin up exclusively on the right side, and he didn’t run dig routes. Someone else had to do those things because we wanted him to be successful.”
The final point concurs with Pauline’s analysis that Smith will need the right scheme to succeed in the NFL. If a team is going to use a premium pick on a pass catcher, they want him to impact the game in as many ways as possible. If Smith has limitations in his usage, that will make teams think twice — as the Dolphins reportedly are — about selecting him early on. As a result, his NFL Draft stock may fall.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.