1 - Release variation & separation quickness
Devonta Smith is a master craftsman who controls the line of scrimmage and keeps defensive backs guessing with a fascinating combination of grace, and tactical nuance.
Smith regularly uses a three-step cadence within his releases, and the wide-angle he deploys on step three is a devastating finishing blow to corners playing up on him.
Why does this work so well for Smith?
His ability to accelerate abruptly from a wide-angular position is rare.
Again, the suddenness on step three of his release during either press engagements or 'close-man' (Bottom of the screen)
If you watch him play, he doesn't get pressed regularly.
Why doesn't he? He's 6'1" 170lbs on a good day.
Corners cannot match the combination of intellect, suddenness, and accelerative capabilities that Smith has at the line of scrimmage.
Smith plays like he's always in control.
Switching up his cadence at the line of scrimmage makes Smith rather unpredictable and difficult to defend in the quick game.
Watch how Smith can shift the corner towards boundary side.
Even though he didn't get the target, reps like this are what makes him such a danger in the short to intermediate areas of the field, especially in the RedZone.
2 - Through break transitions
Watch Smith here as he initiates the startle effect from the defender then accelerates away.
Notice how fluidly he gets back into the route.
Smith does well when transitioning out of close man positioning.
This is a quality rep. Jaycee Horn (#1) is one of the best corners in the nation and is a projected first rounder this Spring.
What I notice about Smith here is the subtle element of torque he uses to create just enough separation to make the play
His catch radius is also on display.
Again, we see the use of torque to separate and act as a propulsive agent into re-acceleration.
Smith turns away from the hashes, then comes back through to negate contact.
During tight coverage on in-breaking routes this is Smith's signature.
Also, notice the outside flash to get the Safety to bite on the left hip opportunity when coming downhill.
This will be spoken on at length on the acceleration part of Smith's profile, but something that he does that is better than anyone in this class is 'transitioning back to the football.'
The decelerative element of Smith's game shines on curls & comebacks and when you combine that with his explosive accelerative capabilities, you get a tough man to man assignment.
Smith is in the slot here, bottom of the screen.
The ability to not decelerate in & out of breaks is a crucial element to being a diverse receiver with a broad route tree.
Smith's lack of mass actually helps here, because the lesser the load, the quicker you can transition downhill and back into acceleration.
When we are speaking on the ability of Smith being a three-level threat in the NFL it is important to identify how he attacks defensive backs on vertical routes and double moves.
Smith does a great job attacking the blind spot, accelerating out of his break, then making the play in a situation of contest.
This is six if Jones puts it out in front.
3 - Capabilities during acceleration & at top-end
Smith's capabilities as a curvilinear accelerator regularly earn him hidden yardage.
This is difficult to defend if you're a downhill defender because of the degree in which he can bend back towards the line of scrimmage and continue accelerating.
Smith's stride cadence & length is deceptive for both defenders as well as evaluators.
There are many that say that Smith lacks explosive capabilities, but his 10.67 100m & 45ft 3in triple jump say otherwise.
Smith is a brilliant, intuitive athlete who knows how and when to use the qualities he possesses.
This was a point of emphasis earlier, but Smith has the best breaks in this 2021 class.
He's a top-shelf decelerator who does a fantastic job selling vertical.
The deceptive nature of Smith comes into play here on a slot fade.
You often see him lulling defenders to sleep, and then timing his acceleration perfectly.
4 - Consistency in contested catch situations & catch concentration
What makes Smith such a well-rounded wide receiver is that he does not have to separate in order to win.
He is a craftsman when it comes to positioning and timing which go well with his top-of-the-class hands.
In the red-zone in particular these plays show up.
While Smith does not have the prototypical frame of a red-zone threat, he's just as dangerous there as he is anywhere else on the field.
His length & catch radius are underrated qualities as well.
DeVonta Smith put on a show in the National Championship game, but this was the play that is going to translate at the next level.
Smith will be a go-to option on timing patterns such as back-shoulder throws.
His ability to adjust, contort, and have the boundary awareness to get his feet in are important skills to have.
He takes his fair share of shots, but always seems to protect himself.
Smith is adept at sensing & negating contact. These along with the concentration capabilities at the catch point make him a viable option over the middle of the field.
5 - In-air athleticism
This play didn't count, but shows the explosive vertical capabilities of Smith against 6'4 205lb Israel Mukuamu.
We see again the ability to contort, track and continually make plays when the ball is in the air.
Stingley Jr. is no slouch as a boundary corner either.
6 - Creating yards post catch
The pause and re-direct after the catch by Smith, then we see the movement intellect to slightly bend back inside to avoid the grasp of #92.
He does have impressive athletic qualities, but the between the ears traits Smith possesses are borderline special at his age.
7 - Physicality
Smith isn't regularly thrown off by handfighting, and does well during situations that involve simulatenous task orientation like we see here when he is engaged while tracking the football.
Stature wise, Smith is the furthest thing from scary, but isn't afraid to initiate contact if that is the most efficient solution for a situation.
Can he get overpowered? Yes, but he has a plethora of other ways to win that do not involve a force-driven engagement.
Now, this is Smith in a nutshell.
From a tactical perspective, Smith is a unicorn.
Always in the right place, at the right time, making the right play.
He's as mistake-free an athlete his age can get and will provide an NFL team with a potential decade worth of reliability.
8 - Why DeVonta Smith? | Prospect podcast
9 - Ascension grades
Tier 1: 75.00 & over -- Gold Jacket potential
Tier 2: 65.00 - 74.99 -- All-pro ceiling
Tier 3: 55.00 - 64.99 -- Pro-bowl ceiling
Tier 4: 49.98 - 54.99 -- High floor primary receiving option
Tier 5: 44.96 - 49.97 -- High ceiling / High-risk prospect
Tier 6: 39.50 - 44.95 -- Niche role player / spot producer
Tier 7: 39.49 & below -- Depth player with low ceiling