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NFL Draft

Arduous NFL Draft Process Not Weighing On DeVonta Smith’s Mind

  • The Draft Network
  • March 22, 2021
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It’s all just another day for DeVonta Smith. Smith, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner and arguably the best wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft, is in the midst of the most arduous process in all of sports—and transitioning from college to the pros can be difficult for anyone, even someone as accomplished, on and off the field, as Smith. But he’s as poised as ever.

Smith has to navigate an unprecedented pre-draft process. He returned to Alabama for another season instead of joining the deepest receiver class to date in the 2020 draft, and it hasn’t come without detractors. People have tried to manufacture holes in Smith’s game, and his weight has been deemed a weakness—or, at the very least, a cause for concern when projecting his success at the next level. Those conversations intensified after he didn’t weigh in at this year’s Senior Bowl. Even at a lean 170 pounds, the number he weighed in at during Alabama’s Pro Day on Monday, Smith plays like he weighs an additional 10-20 pounds. He doesn’t shy away from contact, he powers through it. Smith is durable and has shown, particularly over the last three seasons, how productive he can be in any given game. Now, on the cusp of a first-round selection and amid the conversation of going in the top 10, Smith is focused on what worked so well his senior season with the Crimson Tide.

Smith opted out of Alabama’s Pro Day activities but spoke with the media. The quiet, humble man out of Amite City, Louisiana, offered some sage advice: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Deep receiver classes are becoming the norm and parsing out who’s the best of the best, at some point, becomes a frivolous task. Smith is among the top pass-catchers with Ja’Marr Chase, a receiver out of LSU who opted-out last season; former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle; and Kyle Pitts, the former Florida tight end. Smith solidified his status as the top in his class after the 2020 season. He caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns; his production in the run game and on special teams resulted in 25 total scores. Smith climbed up Alabama’s record books and leaves the storied program as its most productive receiver in history. 

Smith has been in a number of meetings already, answering a slew of questions from league evaluators and executives to secure his fate in the NFL. The best part has been talking football; for Smith, that’s been the most enjoyable—and the easiest—part of the process. What’s not easy when you’re the best at your respective position is staying this calm. Smith has remained extremely even-keeled, a byproduct of his parents—who Smith describes as quiet people, very humble and just hard-working—with an additional nod to the preparation done at Alabama. There’s nothing left for Smith to do; he’s left it all on the field and on tape. 

“It’s not anything you have to worry about. You just go in and just be yourself,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, you’re talking football, that’s what I do. It just feels like another day in the meeting room here, in Alabama.”

There are, of course, still expectations that come with Smith’s elite production. The expectations heightened when he became the first receiver since Desmond Howard (in 1991) to win the Heisman. But no expectation is greater than the ones Smith has for himself, and no preparation has been more beneficial than the competitiveness of Alabama and the SEC. Smith—who has some of the best field awareness, hands, and footwork in the country—has been able to hone his craft amongst the toughest competition and with some of the best collegiate talent. He’s approached every opponent with the same mentality, and that won’t change at the next level.

“No matter who is in front of me, I’m going to approach every game the same, every person that lines up in front of me the same,” Smith said. “Me knowing that I really don’t care who it is in front of me, I’m going to approach everything the same way and I got the mentality that I just won’t be stopped.”

Despite the high level of play the SEC is known for, everyone is bigger, tougher, and stronger in the NFL. Still, Smith can have a seamless transition into the league, already showing on film what teams look for in a productive, reliable Z receiver. He’s been projected to the Miami Dolphins, where former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has become the starter, and the Philadelphia Eagles, who have another former Alabama passer, Jalen Hurts, under center. Smith is confident he’ll fit into any scheme—a projection The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid also made in his scouting report—and bring a similar level of success. The discussion around his size and the risk-reward of using top draft capital on a lanky, game-changing receiver will only intensify as the draft creeps closer. But Smith will remain calm, cool, and collected; it’s just who he is.

“I haven’t come this far to just stop. The journey is not over,” Smith said. “[I’m] continuing to write my story and keep pushing through everything that I’ve been through knowing that there’s a lot of people that say I’m not supposed to be here—so just keep pushing knowing that if I wasn’t supposed to be here, I wouldn’t be here.”

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