Name: Devin Smith
Position: Wide Receiver
Pro team: New York Jets
College: Ohio State University
Draft Status: Round two, Pick #37 overall
Weight: 196 pounds
Arm Length: 31”
40-Yard Dash: 4.42 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.15 seconds
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Speed is the name of Smith’s game and he is carrying a lot of it. He averaged over 20 yards per target in 2014 (28.2 yards per catch) and over half his receptions were for 25 yards or greater. Unlike many deep threats, Smith has a smooth stride and can get to top speed very quickly. His hands are underrated (69% catch rate in 2014) and he can catch over the shoulder with the technique to maintain top speed. While Smith is primarily a deep threat, he uses the threat to work underneath as well, utilizing any cushion from the cornerback to get a few intermediate targets. Outside of his duties as wide receiver, Smith was a top special teams gunner, giving him some extra leash on an NFL team if he develops slower than expected. (I recommend Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception for more detail on Smith’s success as a route runner – paid subscription required).
Smith (like most receivers who work primarily downfield), is a thin player and does not do well as a run blocker – that led to him being taken off the field at Ohio State during most run situations, something that could manifest itself in the NFL. His overall play strength is mediocre (to put it kindly) and strong press corners will pose problems for the young receiver. There are times when his concentration on deep balls wavers, which led to some bobbles and double catches.
There is reason to be excited about Smith’s landing spot. He represents the only deep receiving threat on the Jets roster and the team will likely use him to complement starting receivers Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. They also represent two mentors for Smith to learn from and expand his route tree over the next few years. His biggest competition for slot duties will be Jeremy Kerley (hold for stunned silence). Quarterback seems to be favoring Geno Smith, who has shown ability with the deep ball when given time. However, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the second most accurate deep passer in 2014 so Devin Smith has chance to contribute regardless of his signal caller.
While Chan Gailey’s offense favors running backs due to its wide open nature, his pass offense generates a good number of receiving touchdowns. Gailey doesn’t use the tight end frequently and prefers three receiver sets (Chris Hogan had 58 targets on nearly 500 snaps in 2014 for Gailey). Saying Smith is an upgrade over Hogan for third receiver duties is an understatement for Gailey.
The quarterbacks are capable of delivering the deep ball accurately, but they are not capable of playing consistently. That volatile nature will hurt a player like Smith who already will be an unreliable week to week contributor. Geno and Fitzpatrick also get pressured frequently, a result of holding the ball and scrambling around in the pocket. This will hurt Smith as he does not play back to the ball as well as Marshall and Decker.
Speaking of those receivers, they are target hogs who will leave little for Smith and the rest of the offense. Add in emerging tight end Jace Amaro, a player with the ability to play in the slot, and Smith’s path to targets becomes murkier. How much does Smith become a decoy to open up the field for the primary options in this offense?
The path to snaps is clearer than the path to receiving targets. I expect Smith to get 500 snaps in his rookie year (Martavis Bryant had just over 300 for comparison) in Chan Gailey’s wide open offense. However, I think he plays more of a vertical threat with an emphasis on the threat. There will be some shots taken but with Decker and Marshall around, Smith’s presence will be more decorative than substantive. I suspect a rookie year of 30-40 catches with 600 yards and 4-5 touchdowns. Nothing to dismiss and something to build on in the future.
As a card carrying member of the “Devin Smith is Awesome” ™ fan club, I will likely be more optimistic than others at DLF. Smith is capable of being a top five receiver out of this class and building a resume that includes multiple 1,000 yard seasons. Smith has shown himself adept at making big plays and scoring touchdowns at an absurd rate, two abilities that should continue at the NFL level. PPR leagues will likely undervalue him for years to come, typical of deep threats, but I see a player capable of future WR2 production being valued at a WR3 or even WR4 level.
The most frequent comparison is to DeSean Jackson and there is good reason – they both excel at the nine-route and have the rare game changing speed that defenses are forced to respect. Jackson is actually smaller than Smith (5’10”, 180 lbs) but they have similar frames and play with the same lack of strength. Both are also good pass catchers for being deep threats, but Jackson has a more developed route tree (even when he came out of college). Torrey Smith is the other easy comparison as a premier deep threat and similar measurements during the combine process. Torrey has small hands (8.5”) and struggles with his hands more than Devin, but they both struggled beyond the deep routes in college. These two receivers represent the archetype for Devin Smith and show that he has the capable to be a top receiver for an NFL team and a solid contributor for a dynasty team.
Rookie Draft Advice
Smith is being drafted, on average, at the end of the second round in rookie drafts. Quite simply, that is a huge value. Many owners are going to punish Smith for his landing spot but the quarterback can change given the new coaching staff. He represents the last shot at a receiver with fantasy WR2 upside and I prefer him over players like Jaelen Strong (pick 14) and Duke Johnson (pick 18) easily. He should be in the pick 13 to 16 conversation, not the pick 21 to 26 range.