Campus to Franchise: Is Devonta Smith's Speed a Legitimate Question Mark?
A New Year calls for a new column. ‘From Campus to Franchise’ will give you a weekly dose of college football. Focusing on recruiting rumours, player breakdowns and analysing the world of draft twitter. We’ll take the biggest stories and conversations around the game and give you our opinion. Enjoy!
A Question Of Speed?
Draft twitter is often considered somewhat of an echo chamber. Analysts can have knee jerk reactions to single performances with prospects making wild leaps up draft boards. It’s fair to say Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith has steadily risen up the rankings and for some is now wide receiver number 1.
He lived up to that billing in the National Championship Semi Final against Notre Dame. Smith accounted for 130 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Despite this, there remains question marks from some corners.
At 175lbs, Smith is a thin-framed player. His light build will always be a concern at the next level but it hasn’t hampered him in his career so far. The Heisman favourite has faced off against the best corners in the SEC – who will also graduate to the NFL – and nobody has been able to slow him down yet.
Another point of conjecture appears to be Smith’s straight line speed. The Athletic’s Robert Mays appeared to kick off the discussion with the following tweet:
Lot of talk around what Devonta Smith's 40 time is gonna be. But I'm pretty sure it's "faster than the guys chasing him."— Robert Mays (@robertmays) January 1, 2021
In response Director of the Senior Bowl and former scout Jim Nagy responded:
Devonta was high-4.4 range for NFL scouts at pro-day spring of his sophomore year. If a GM lets Smith’s 40 time influence where the team has him stacked on the board he should lose his job. https://t.co/YAkb3reGaA— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) January 1, 2021
That would leave him some distance behind former teammate Henry Ruggs who posted a 4.27 second 40-yard dash. It would be more in line with Jerry Jeudy’s 4.46 time. For Smith, the question should be ‘is there any value in posting a time’?
Smith’s breakaway ability has never been a question mark. His sharp route running and smooth hands help him get separation and make him the star playmaker he is. Whether he is deficient in bulk and straight line speed can only be a consideration if it affects him in a gametime situation.
Smith’s versatility, playing in the slot and outside, as well as his A+ skillset mean that his status as a top 10 pick is warranted. Anybody who believes otherwise will be overthinking the evaluation, although for the purposes of transparency Jaylen Waddle still sits above him on my current rankings.
High Profile QB With Character Concerns? A Familiar Tale
As we turn our attention to the upcoming crop of future NFL quarterbacks, Zach Wilson’s name has caught fire. WIlson has had a fantastic season, leading BYU to an 11-1 record. Accounting for 33 touchdowns and only three interceptions, Wilson had an impressive completion percentage of 73.4%.
However, as always there seems to be character concerns that raise their head when it comes to first round Quarterbacks. Take for instance the two differing plights of Josh Rosen and Justin Herbert.
Rosen was selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. In the build-up, insiders had questioned Rosen’s motivation to be an elite NFL player. Rosen was from a well-to-do family and scouts were concerned about his interests outside of football. Whether that played a part in his career to date isn’t clear but he is clinging on to a spot in the league.
In contrast, this year Justin Herbert came under the microscope. In a similar way to Rosen, scouts felt Herbert, an academic high achiever, could have his focus dragged from football to other interests. That coupled with a more introverted personality, could explain why he was eventually considered the third QB overall. However, his lightning quick start at the helm of the Chargers’ suggest those fears can be laid to rest.
Now, it appears Wilson will also face scrutiny for his personality:
Harsh quote from an NFC Director on BYU QB Zach Wilson in this article on Walter Football:— WestCoastCFB (@WestCoastCFB) December 24, 2020
“(Wilson) has character concerns, rich kid who is an entitled brat - uncle owns Jet Blue, parents are a pain, not a leader, selfish, and he's a know-it-all.” https://t.co/BqBqMGXaLA
Stories like this will become rife as draft season nears. It is the time of year where misinformation is bandied around freely in an attempt to manipulate a prospect’s draft standing and create doubt in opponents’ front offices. What is clear is that Wilson is driven to achieve, from a successful family and has bags of self-belief. He might not fit the bill for all 32 teams but his high level play this year mean he should remain a target for somebody very early on day 1.
Player In Focus: Christian Darrisaw
Each week we will take a deeper look at prospects and give our opinion on their draft standing. This week we focus on Virginia Tech left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw is rising up draft boards and his name is squarely in first round contention.
While Oregon tackle Penei Sewell is still considered the consensus number 1 offensive lineman in the country, is it fair to consider Darrisaw as a legitimate challenger to the crown?
Well, from my viewing Darrisaw isn’t too far removed from Sewell. He fits the criteria that NFL scouts look for in offensive tackles.
At 6’5, 315lbs, he is long armed and terrifically strong. Even when initially knocked backwards by pass rushers, he has the ability to recover his upper body and hold up to further pressure. His arm length means even when beaten off the edge, he can still knock rushers off target.
While Darrisaw can get to the second level, I wouldn’t classify him as an elite athlete. His biggest weakness appears to be against pure speed rushers. Out of a stand up position defenders can get around the outside of Darrisaw with speed and bend. Too often he can’t reset his feet quick enough to deal with the speed off the snap.
The Virginia Tech tackle is forceful but not nasty and at times when the scheme means he is left without a block, he doesn’t hunt for a man to block or assist his colleagues on the offensive line with their block.
I have no doubt Darrisaw possesses the ability to be a starting NFL tackle. While there are certainly areas that need polish, the traits are there for all to see. Those teams who fear missing out on Sewell may not be too disappointed with ‘second prize’.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.