Dynasty Draft Profile: Devin Smith
April 9, 2015 | Rich Hribar
*MSYD = % of Team Receiving Yardage
Devin Smith is one of the more intriguing prospects of this draft class at the receiver position and has been surging upwards in terms of draft buzz since Ohio State’s late season run. He helped justify that upward trend with a strong combine performance in which he bested average marks for receivers under 200 pounds entering the league since 1999 in every measurable drill except the three cone (average is 6.90 seconds). His vertical jump ranked in 85th percentile of the same group as he removed any concern over him as a measurable athlete.
Under most circumstances, his short arm length and smaller hand size in unison would be an area to express caution, but when it comes to on field ability, neither are pressing issues. That’s because Smith is the very best vertical game receiver in this class, combining his speed, dominant ball tracking ability and body control into a downfield juggernaut. He turns would-be errant throws in appearance to on target strikes and leverages defenders on the numbers better than anyone entering the league this season.
He runs routes like a center fielder and because he can track the ball so well, it allows him to stay patient in playing the football in flight without tipping off defensive backs until they’re already too late to defense the play. He’s also aggressive in attacking the football just to add icing on the vertical cake.
He can be pushed around a bit, but his downfield ability was constantly respected by the defense for good cause, so there aren’t a lot of instances where defenders really try to get in tight to him and defend him physically. His speed off of the line of scrimmage is so good that he can beat the press if you don’t get your hands into him and if that happens, you aren’t catching him.
Just for good measure since it’s ridiculous, if you’re a fan of Odell Beckham-esque receptions, Smith has that on his Bat Belt as well.
When a prospect enters the league with a dominant trait such as the one Smith has, it’s natural to want to elevate the rest of his game, creating scenarios of why and how he can develop into an all-around receiver that will succeed on every level in the league. That question still remains with Smith because his usage changed dramatically in 2014, becoming more of package player than ever before. He was third on the team in targets (48) behind Michael Thomas (75) and Jalin Marshall (52) after being the first or second option in his previous three seasons. His target share fell to just 12.6 percent last season after a 21.8 percent mark in 2012 and a 21 percent one in 2013. He had just one game last season in which he had more than four receptions and closed his college career catching three or fewer passes in 38 of 49 games.
Those kind of low reception numbers are not only very rare for a prospect overall, but especially rare for one regarded as a potential first round selection. Since 2000, these are all of the receivers selected during the draft to have closed their careers averaging fewer than three receptions per game (Smith averaged 2.2) in their final season and the number of top 30 fantasy seasons they went on to produce.
|Eddie Royal||Virginia Tech||2008||42||2.5||1|
|Stephen Hill||Georgia Tech||2012||43||2.2||0|
|Yamon Figurs||Kansas State||2007||74||2.3||0|
|Brandon Tate||North Carolina||2009||83||2.7||0|
|Brian Hartline||Ohio State||2009||108||1.6||2|
|Skyler Green||Louisiana State||2006||125||2.5||0|
|David Clowney||Virginia Tech||2007||157||2.8||0|
|Legedu Naanee||Boise State||2007||172||2.7||0|
|Justin Harper||Virginia Tech||2008||215||2.9||0|
This group of 21 receivers went to combine for just three useful fantasy campaigns with Brian Hartline posting two of them. Most of the list is filled with later round options, several round two and three players, but no one that was taken in the first round. If Smith is indeed off the board that early, it will be unprecedented in terms of raw reception production. That overall paltry production combined with his measurable athleticism generates this objective physical and final season comparison list.
|Anthony Gonzalez||Ohio State||2007||32||22.3||72||193||4.46||38.0||123||4.08||6.54||3.9||56.5||0.1|
|Andre Davis||Virginia Tech||2002||47||22.5||73||194||4.43||39.5||123||4.10||6.77||3.5||56.6||0.6|
|Devin Smith||Ohio State||2015||TBD||22.8||72||196||4.42||39.0||122||4.15||6.97||2.4||66.5||0.9|
That low volume is worrisome, but efficiency signs point to the notion that Smith may have been more limited by opportunity than ability. His 19.4 yards per target was the highest in the country of all players with double digit targets and his 28.2 yards per reception was second of players with double digit receptions. Not only were those gaudy numbers, but his catch rate was an astounding 68.8 percent. With the types of targets he generates, that’s an incredibly high number and it was at 60.3 percent in 2013, still very high for a vertical target.
He’s also proven to have a penchant for scoring touchdowns every season on opportunities awarded to him. Actually, he’s in rarefied air in that regard as he has the highest touchdown rate of all Division 1 receivers with 25 or more career touchdowns over the past 15 seasons.
|Devin Smith||Ohio State||121||30||24.79%|
|Jason Hill||Washington State||148||32||21.62%|
|Lyle Leong||Texas Tech||152||32||21.05%|
|Kris Adams||Texas-El Paso||144||30||20.83%|
|Tyler Shoemaker||Boise State||122||25||20.49%|
|Charles Rogers||Michigan State||135||27||20.00%|
|Dez Bryant||Oklahoma State||147||29||19.73%|
|Darius Hill||Ball State||158||31||19.62%|
|Greg Carr||Florida State||148||29||19.59%|
|Stedman Bailey||West Virginia||210||41||19.52%|
|Dwayne Jarrett||Southern California||216||41||18.98%|
|Santonio Holmes||Ohio State||140||25||17.86%|
|Michael Crabtree||Texas Tech||231||41||17.75%|
|Titus Davis||Central Michigan||198||35||17.68%|
|Todd Blythe||Iowa State||176||31||17.61%|
|Mike Williams||Southern California||176||30||17.05%|
|Austin Pettis||Boise State||229||39||17.03%|
|Dwayne Bowe||Louisiana State||154||26||16.88%|
|Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr.||Texas-El Paso||190||32||16.84%|
|Aldrick Robinson||Southern Methodist||181||30||16.57%|
|Golden Tate||Notre Dame||157||26||16.56%|
|Greg Jennings||Western Michigan||238||39||16.39%|
|Davante Adams||Fresno State||233||38||16.31%|
|Adarius Bowman||Oklahoma State||155||25||16.13%|
|Michael Larkin||Miami (OH)||200||32||16.00%|
|Justin Blackmon||Oklahoma State||252||40||15.87%|
|Calvin Johnson||Georgia Tech||178||28||15.73%|
|Jeff Moturi||Texas-El Paso||170||26||15.29%|
|Phillip Payne||Nevada-Las Vegas||171||26||15.20%|
|Jarrett Hicks||Texas Tech||198||30||15.15%|
|Jeff Samardzija||Notre Dame||179||27||15.08%|
|Charles Sharon||Bowling Green State||232||34||14.66%|
|Jeff Fuller||Texas A&M||233||34||14.59%|
|Rashaun Woods||Oklahoma State||293||42||14.33%|
|Brandon Lafell||Louisiana State||175||25||14.29%|
|Austin Collie||Brigham Young||215||30||13.95%|
|Michael Floyd||Notre Dame||271||37||13.65%|
|Chris Williams||New Mexico State||245||32||13.06%|
|Robert Woods||Southern California||250||32||12.80%|
|Cody Hoffman||Brigham Young||258||33||12.79%|
|Martin Nance||Miami (OH)||208||26||12.50%|
|Eric Ward||Texas Tech||252||31||12.30%|
|Titus Young||Boise State||204||25||12.25%|
|Josh Harper||Fresno State||221||27||12.22%|
|Emmanuel Sanders||Southern Methodist||285||34||11.93%|
|Matt Miller||Boise State||239||28||11.72%|
|Chandler Jones||San Jose State||239||28||11.72%|
|Marqise Lee||Southern California||248||29||11.69%|
|Tyler Lockett||Kansas State||249||29||11.65%|
|B.J. Cunningham||Michigan State||218||25||11.47%|
|Eric Deslauriers||Eastern Michigan||248||27||10.89%|
|Rashad Greene||Florida State||266||28||10.53%|
|Derek Hagan||Arizona State||258||27||10.47%|
|Jordan White||Western Michigan||306||32||10.46%|
|Tavon Austin||West Virginia||288||29||10.07%|
|Freddie Barnes||Bowling Green State||298||30||10.07%|
|Bryan Anderson||Central Michigan||290||28||9.66%|
|Justin Hardy||East Carolina||387||35||9.04%|
Having a lofty success rate doesn’t necessarily predict a great NFL career, but the names on the bottom all carried having a hard time of finding the end zone over into the league. Any conversion rate below 15 percent is red flag for an incoming prospect and Smith didn’t have any outlier season to anchor his production, he was steady in finding the end zone.
Smith is a receiver that still requires a step of faith in developing into more than a vertical option. While their are traits in his game that suggest he can be a fully functional receiver on every level, it definitely feels like the black cloud of his low production and usage is being overlooked by real football teams and the cart is starting to pull ahead of the horse a bit, assuming there’s real fire to all of the smoke that he could be a mid-first round pick in the draft. That’s baking a lot of his ceiling into his cost. Inherently you want treat every prospect individually, but a broad scope of probability still exists and would be disregarded at that juncture. As mentioned in the Phillip Dorsett profile, strictly vertical guys have shown to be overvalued recently with many failing to have developed as their draft cost would have suggested. The last really strict vertical player I can recall changing his stripes and becoming a completely nuanced receiver is Roddy White, and he still had a high usage final college season to lean on and it still took his third season in the NFL to fully develop.
For fantasy purposes, Smith is still being grouped in a tier with other leap of faith options such as Sammie Coates, Dorsett and Chris Conley in the middle of the second round and beyond. That’s a fair price point if it holds and has yet to meet the real buzz surrounding him. Of that group, I do like Conley the most given his overall physical profile, but he’s also very likely going to be the last of that group selected in the real draft and in turn may be the cheapest in fantasy drafts. I prefer Smith to each of the others because then I am buying on the consistent touchdown ability he’s shown, regardless if he ever truly develops an all-around game. But if his fantasy stock ends up meeting his with his real football investment and he costs more than a middle second rounder, I will almost assuredly be priced out.
Smith was the seventh receiver selected in the draft at 37 overall to the Jets, confirming there was indeed fire to all of the draft stock smoke coming in. Like Tyler Lockett in Seattle, I like this move more from a real football sense immediately than a fantasy one. The Jets needed a lid lifting receiver on their roster and with Chan Gailey now calling plays, New York will likely be incorporated multiple receiver sets frequently. At first, he may be used just a clear out option for those big targets, playing into the strength of his attributes right away. He should find enough vertical targets to have a few splash play weeks, but I’d anticipate uneven production as a rookie.
It remains to be seen just how many real targets exist after Decker and Marshall since Gailey has never had a receiving unit this deeply talented. He’s never even had a WR2 reach 100 targets or a WR3 reach 60, and that’s not factoring in Jace Amaro into the equation. I don’t see looking into Gailey’s prior target distribution that helpful for projecting the Jets looks this season. In any event, under most circumstances I expect Smith to be in on three receiver sets with Marshall playing inside.
The other lurking issue is just who the Jets will have under center this season. With the Jets selecting Bryce Petty in the fourth round to add onto Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who knows what kind of carousel we will see in season, especially if the team struggles with whomever gets the initial crack. While Fitzpatrick was improved downfield a season ago, he has been average to subpar in every other year of his career and during his first stint in this offense. That very could well be personnel related as when he had a target like DeAndre Hopkins, he showed improvement. That said, I don’t think anyone thinks of Fitzpatrick’s vertical game as a calling card and it would seem that Geno would benefit Devin more. The situation is cloudy for his rookie season, but with the invested draft capital the Jets used on Smith, he’s not just going to strictly be a decoy long term and will eventually be given opportunity to showcase he can be more. In the end, he landed in a spot that can use his best ability right away and has the door open to develop into more down the line, leaving his initial mid to second round price tag unscathed in rookie drafts for those who want to pursue his ceiling.
Early 2015 Projection: 76.4 TGT/42.0 REC/592.3 YDS/3.4 TD