The Buckeyes captured the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff National Championship, with Ohio State WR Devin Smith playing an integral role in their run to the title. The senior caught 33 passes for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns during the season, including three TD catches in the Big Ten Championship Game and one scoring grab in the National Semifinal against Alabama.
Tale of the Tape
What He Does Well
Smith’s ability to catch the ball stands out on game film. The receiver does a very good job of securing it with his hands, away from his body and pads. Receivers who use their chest and shoulders to assist in the catch are less confident in their hands and are more likely to find the football bouncing off for an incompletion.
On this play against Michigan State, Smith is split wide to the right and runs a snag route:
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The route lacks crispness, but Smith brings in the football with his hands away from his torso before turning upfield to gain additional yardage.
Here is another example of this technique, this time on an option route:
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The WR cuts inside from a wide-right alignment, then breaks back to the sideline. He pulls in the football with his hands, secures it, and quickly sprints vertically for yards after the catch.
Smith’s experience is evident on this play, also against the Spartans. While he splits wide to the left, his defender blitzes off the edge at the snap:
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The receiver throttles down after a few steps and makes himself available for the hot read from the quarterback. Notice how he cuts his route off shorter than the curl route being run on the other side of the field (top of screen). He has recognized the situation and adjusted properly, a trait needed in offenses that require receivers to read coverages and run the full route tree.
Also notice that again he pulls in the throw with his hands away from his body, and cuts upfield for more YAC. Technique and solid fundamentals are expected in the NFL and Smith excels in using proper technique while catching the ball and good awareness of the field and game situation.
Smith excels in the vertical game. He runs great deep routes, tracks the flight of the football extremely well, and fights for it against defenders in 50/50 situations. His speed and size make him a tantalizing prospect for a team needing to stretch the field.
Against Illinois, Smith wins a battle for the ball using his physical skills and football instincts:
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Starting the play as the inside slot receiver on the left, he runs a wheel pattern in this trail route scheme. With the defense in Cover 6, the deep outside defender reads the play well, breaking on the throw to Smith. The defensive back is in position to break up the pass or secure the interception, but Smith stays focused, wins the ball in the air, and pulls down the catch ‒ with more of those hands.
Track The Flight
Smith’s go routes are things of beauty. Take this example, again from the Illinois game:
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The Illini defense uses Cover 3, with the defender looking to contain Smith using press-man alignment. The WR employs a stutter-step move at the line of scrimmage, beating the defender off the line without the CB even getting a finger on him. He then gets behind the deep middle safety, all the while tracking the throw over his shoulder.
Here is another example of Smith beating Cover 3 on the vertical, and tracking the football well:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/DevinSmithPlaySix.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/DevinSmithPlaySixStillOne.png”]
Again, Smith adjusts to the path of the football flawlessly, following the ball over his outside shoulder to the sideline. He catches the football with his hands extended from his body, demonstrating a high level of confidence in his technique.
One last example of his prowess in the vertical game, this time from the slot against Michigan State:
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Smith is in the slot to the right against the Spartans Cover 2. He uses pure speed to race by both deep safeties, bringing in the pass for a long touchdown.
While the team that drafts Smith will add an instant deep threat to their passing game, they will also add a hard worker on the outside who does not take plays off, even when the game is not going his way. Penn State held Smith to only one reception for eight yards this season, but the receiver fought on every play and worked hard blocking in the run game:
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On this play, Smith is split wide to the right. Ohio State runs the ball on the inside, but the WR fights on the sideline with his defender, blocking him up to (and likely after) the whistle blows.
Route-breaking and footwork
Smith struggles with routes requiring him to break off the stem. His footwork and cuts tend to be a bit rounded and lack precision when tasked with moving off the vertical route and cutting to the inside or the outside. His movements before and/or after the break are not especially fluid.
His go routes and curl routes tend to be crisp and effective, but he needs work on out routes and patterns over the middle.
Returning to the snag route against Michigan State, look at the difference in his take-off on that route compared to his vertical routes. His footwork and movements are not as fluid, and he seems unsettled as he comes out of his stance. This is also evident on the option route above. He makes a good break and works to the sideline well, but from the snap up until the break the route is a bit choppy.
Part of this is a lack of familiarity. Because of his ability in the vertical game, Ohio State used him on deep patterns on the majority of plays. With practice time and repetition he will improve his route-running skills, so a team should not shy away from drafting him for this reason, especially considering his other talents.
Comparable Player: Torrey Smith
While the 2015 wide receiver class is deep and talented, today’s NFL is a passing league. Given his ability to stretch a defense vertically, Smith will likely be drafted late in the first round. The addition of Smith to an NFL roster will put pressure on opposing safeties, expand the field, and open up room underneath for teammates. His field awareness and recognition will fit well with many NFL schemes, and his ability to track balls in flight and adjust late will make him a favorite target for quarterbacks at the next level.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
Raw footage courtesy of JimLightFootball.com