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Featherweight Elephant

Heisman Trophy Presentation Photo by Kent Gidley/Heisman Trophy Trust via Getty Images

On this week’s Take it Easy podcast with host Kyle Ledbetter I pondered whether if given the choice of any WR in the 2021 NFL Draft pool, I would want the Arizona Cardinals to select DeVonta Smith, 2020 Heisman Trophy winner from the 2020 National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. Please, have a listen, if you are interested:

What???

Take DeVonta Smith over Ja’Marr Chase???

I know. Crazy, right?

Yet, is it so crazy to believe that DeVonta Smith will put up more catches, for more yards and TDs than Ja’Marr Chase?

I believe that DeVonta Smith will be the most productive and the most difficult to defend WR in this draft.

Career college numbers:

  • DeVonta Smith (6-0, 169): 235 receptions —- 3,965 yds. —- 16.9 ave. —- 46 TDs
  • Ja’Marr Chase (6-0, 207) : 107 receptions —- 2,093 yds. —- 19.6 —- 23 TDs
  • Jaylen Waddle (5-10, 183) : 106 receptions —- 1,999 yds. —- 18.9 —- 17 TDs

Believe me, I would be delighted if the Cardinals could come away from this draft with any one of these star receivers. Each in his own way, brings a special value to the team.

As much as I like Jaylen Waddle and his ability to take the top off of defenses, I am having difficulty understanding why so many pundits and fans have Waddle rated higher than Smith:

I get that pundits and fans are concerned about DeVonta Smith being all of 6-0 169 pounds. But, I like that Smith is the same height as Ja’Marr Chase and is 2 inches taller than Jaylen Waddle. Being 6-0 means that Kyler would have an easier time targeting him.

Here is what Nick Saban says about Smith’s slight build (thanks to today’s article by Nicole Yang in the Boston Globe):

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/04/21/sports/among-receivers-nfl-draft-theres-just-one-small-question-about-heisman-winner-devonta-smith/?event=event12

“I’ll be honest with you,” Saban said after the team’s second pro day in March. “When we recruited DeVonta Smith, he weighed 159 pounds and I wished he was bigger. Now, he weighs 170 pounds, and I think people at the next level are probably saying, ‘I wish he was bigger.’

“But I’m saying all that to say this: There are bigger people who don’t perform anywhere near how he performs. There are people that are bigger than him that don’t have the competitive spirit that he has, nor the competitive toughness. Tell me how many receivers are tougher than he is, that block better, that play more physical than he does.”

Player comps (per Lindy’s 2021 NFL Draft guide):

  • DeVonta Smith : Marvin Harrison
  • Ja’Marr Chase: A.J. Brown
  • Jaylen Waddle: Tyreek Hill

Today on ESPN Insider, Todd McShay makes the same comp of Smith to Harrison:

DeVonta Smith to Marvin Harrison

To start, both wide receivers have a lean frame yet know how to protect themselves and get open. But I really like this comp because of their savvy route running. Alabama’s Smith knows how to get off press coverage, he’s smooth in and out of his breaks, and he can find the soft spots in coverage. That’s Harrison, who played with the Indianapolis Colts from 1996 to 2008 and is now in the Hall of Fame. And Smith also thinks about the game in the same way Harrison did — the Heisman winner is a second quarterback on the field with excellent recall and a great understanding of defensive structures. — Todd McShay, NFL draft analyst

One of the arguments that I keep hearing from DeVonta Smith skeptics is that college production often doesn’t translate into the NFL. Yes, as a general rule, that is true. But, whenever I have gone to the game tapes to scout some of my other favorite players from Alabama, I am just in awe of how no CB from the top programs in college football has been able to cover this guy. Go watch Smith’s games versus secondaries with the likes of Jaycee Horn & Israel Mukuamu (8/136/17.0/2TD), Eric Stokes & Tyson Campbell (11/167/15.1/2TDs), Shaun Wade & Sevyn Banks (12/215/17.9/3TDs), Kary Vincent & Grant Delpit (7/213/30.4/2TDs/2019), Cameron Dantzler (6/92/15.3/0TD/2019, in a little more than one half of play up 38-7 in 3rd Q), Kelvin Joseph (9/144/16.0/2TDs), Derek Stingley Jr. (8/231/28.9/3TD), Marco Wilson & Kaiir Elam (15/184/12.3/2TD)

Some say, but DeVonta won’t be able to get off press coverage in the NFL the way he did in college. Yet, there’s a very simple answer to that caveat which is, if getting off press coverage is ever an issue (and because of Smith’s superior quickness I do not believe that beating press coverage will ever be an issue for him), then put him in motion. NFL defenses will not want to see DeVonta Smith lining up on one side and then motioning to the other.

In the NFL today, even these days from vertical passing game guru Bruce Arians, we hear coaches saying all the time “get the ball out quick.”

It is for this reason that I believe DeVonta Smith presents more modern NFL value than any other WR in this draft. Watch how quickly he separates:

Note: when you watch each play, do yourself a favor and count out loud “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand as fast as you can, and see how many times the ball comes out faster than your 1,2,3 one thousand counts. It’s uncanny!

Funny, but, when I went to copy this video, I tunes into this DeVonta Smith discussion between Stephen A. Smith and Mel Kiper:

Well, it looks like Stephen A. and Mel are as crazy as I am —- they too believe that DeVonta Smith is the #1 WR in the draft.

As Cardinals’ fans we talk about Larry Fitzgerald being “Mr. January” in the NFL playoffs by virtue of the impressive numbers that Larry has posted whenever the Cardinals have been in the playoffs.

Well, talk about being productive in playoff games, take a look at how DeVonta Smith performed in 2020-2021 playoff games:

  • SEC Championship vs. Florida: 15 receptions —- 184 yds. —- 12.2 ave. —- 2 TDs
  • FBS Semi- Final vs. Notre Dame: 7 receptions —- 130 yds. —- 18.6 ave. —- 3 TDs
  • FBS national Championship vs. Ohio St.: 12 receptions —- 215 yds. —- 17.9 ave. —- 3 TDs
  • Totals: 34 receptions —- 529 yds. —- 15.6 ave. —- 8 TDs

DeVonta Smith, all 6-0 169 pounds of him, is Tillman tough! Just like his college head coach avows. And, hey, the last Heisman Trophy winner the Cardinals drafted was considered too small to be effective in the NFL.

The Cardinals have actually fared very well over the years with under-sized ballers.

Therefore, on this day, it is most fitting to pay tribute to Pat Tillman, who lost his life in Afghanistan seventeen years ago, while serving his country and fighting for global freedom and peace. RIEP soldier.

This 4 minute interview with Pat is awesome —- and a great reminder of his irrepressible spirit.