Sometimes, pipelines to the NFL Draft can begin out of nowhere, and it was no different for Shi Smith. Over the past few years, it has seemed to be that way with South Carolina and wide receivers. Yes, guys like Alshon Jeffery played there, but it was never seen as a hallmark for receivers. Now, after Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, they are building a legitimate wide receiver factory in Columbia, South Carolina.
Shi Smith NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: South Carolina
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 5’10”
- Weight: 186 pounds
- Wingspan: 75 1/2″
- Arm: 31 3/10″
- Hand: 9 3/4″
A high pedigree player, Shi Smith dawned the field for Union County High School in South Carolina. While there, the talented receiver would rack up over 1,300 receiving yards in his junior season en route to a consensus four-star rating. Smith dealt with some injury issues in his senior season but did help Union County reach the playoffs. Rated as the second-best player in the state, Smith was invited to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas to showcase his talents.
As such, and as a four-star prospect, Smith enjoyed a bevy of offers, including in-state Clemson. Back in middle school, when he was playing at quarterback, Smith attended a Clemson camp. During that camp, coaches suggested to Smith he move to wide receiver. He did just that but ended up going a different direction when offered a spot to play for the Orange and Purple. Citing an ability to get early playing time, Smith went to the SEC and South Carolina to play wide receiver.
Shi Smith’s career as a South Carolina wide receiver
Smith accomplished the goal he set out on when he signed with the Gamecocks. In his freshman season, Smith started seven games and played in 12. He only missed one game against Clemson due to injury, but Smith was already showing the player he could be.
A 53-yard touchdown reception against Michigan was the highlight of his freshman campaign. With over 400 receiving yards and the third-most among SEC freshmen receivers, Smith’s future was bright in a loaded receiving room.
The 2018 season saw another uptick in Smith’s performance. With 673 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns, Smith was primarily productive out of the slot with Samuel and Edwards on the boundary.
The injury bug came again as Smith missed one game with back spasms. Impressively, he put up two 100-yard performances, including a performance against Clemson where he skied up to make a great leaping catch. Smith’s growth into a reliable mover of the chains was promising for the Gamecocks.
His 2019 season was full of ups and downs. Without Samuel, the load was more on him and Edwards. Smith did not get high-level quarterback play, and his production dipped to only 483 receiving yards in his junior campaign. It did not help that a hamstring strain forced him to miss two games early in the season.
Still, a big game against Tennessee was promising for Smith. He broke 4 tackles after the catch, including a key one to spring a 75-yard touchdown on the opening play. In 2020, however, with a bigger role to take on, Smith needed to prove his talent level.
Shi Smith rises to the occasion in 2020
In order to get his draft stock up, Smith had to have an impressive 2020 campaign. No matter how short or lengthy it was. Luckily, Smith put up 633 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in the fewest games played in his entire collegiate career.
Smith’s maturity into the top role on the Gamecocks’ offense solidified itself nicely. For Smith, his Auburn game in particular, was impressive. Smith made a number of terrific contested catches, thus displaying NFL-level body control and ball skills.
It was that ability to win above the rim that was impressive for Smith in 2020. He proved he could navigate over the middle of the field and hang on to tough catches with his strong hands.
The flashy moments for Smith came this year, too, including a one-handed touchdown against Ole Miss. As the feature point of the offense, Smith made the clutch and hardest plays look easy. At the very least, that will turn the heads of NFL scouts, despite Smith’s obvious limitations.
Analyzing Shi Smith’s NFL Draft Profile
So, as a result of just size, Smith is likely going to be a slot guy at the next level. That is no slight to him, either. Slot receivers in the NFL are needed, especially those like Smith. Few can make the tough grabs that he can and sustain the punishment he has shown he can withstand. The ability to win on these contested catches and be fearless with reckless abandon over the middle of the field will be attractive to several teams.
I do not think he is particularly great athletically. Smith is not a world-class athlete. He has fine agility, but he does not separate at a high level. If he does separate, Smith often does it at the line of scrimmage with a growing and polished set of releases.
That strategy at the line of scrimmage is a place where Smith knows how to win. He attacks leverage and space out of the slot to open up small windows in the middle of the field. Smith can open up the field vertically with that as well, especially knowing he can make tough catches downfield.
Shi Smith’s best 2021 NFL Draft fits
The obvious issues with Shi Smith will be clear as day. He is not super elusive after the catch. Smith has some boogie in him, but that open field elusiveness is not a defining trait of his. Thus, do not expect to get him a ton of manufactured touches to win and make big plays. The athletic area is where Smith falls a hair short of everyone.
He is not physically imposing, albeit he is tough. More importantly, Smith lacks explosiveness, high-end lateral agility, and anything more than slightly above-average speed. That will lower his ceiling a bit, but there is a place for a guy like Smith to have a quality role in the NFL.
Possible team-specific fits
Any team that needs a slot receiver who can make tough catches over the middle of the field will like Smith. The Pittsburgh Steelers strike me initially as a strong fit. Not only is their dependable slot receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster possibly leaving, but they led the league in drops in 2020. Smith simply does not drop the football with his elite hands. That fit naturally makes sense for both sides.
Other fits that have merit include the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, and Tennessee Titans. All four of those teams could use a tough, physical slot receiver over the middle of the field.
Smith acts almost like a security blanket for quarterbacks despite his size due to his ball skills and body control. The improving route running and releases can project Smith to possibly improve with his consistent separation ability. If he can do that, Smith will be a solid slot receiver for any team over the middle of the field.