Has DeVonta Smith become Alabama’s most dangerous receiver?

T.G. Paschal/BamaCentral
Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you were looking closely, it was obvious that he got a little help on the play.

During the second quarter of Alabama’s game against LSU last Saturday, when the Crimson Tide had first down at its own 36, the offense pulled out something that resulted in an immediate touchdown.

Instead of calling for the snap with a clap like Tua Tagovailoa normally does, this time it was a fake. In that moment after everyone had to fight the urge to flinch, the LSU secondary looked to the bench to see if there was a final adjustment. When Derek Stingley Jr. turned his head, that’s when the junior quarterback called for the ball.

DeVonta Smith shot past the freshmen cornerback before he knew what had happened for the easy 64-yard catch and score.

“That's just something that we worked on and the coaches wanted us to execute,” Smith said. “I think we did a good of executing it.”

There have been a lot of plays like that this season, not in terms of taking advantage of a tendency noticed in film study, but big-time plays and performances by Smith this season. The 136 yards on eight catches made for a career game against South Carolina, but then he blew past that with 274 yards and five touchdowns against Ole Miss — both Alabama single-game records.

In the process, he’s been leading the Crimson Tide in receiving this season. Not just in one category, but nearly all of them including yards after the catch.

Alabama receiving leaders

Name, Catches, Yards (Avg/play), TDs, Long (Avg./Game)

  • DeVonta Smith 50 934 (18.68) 11 85 (103.78)
  • Jerry Jeudy 57 753 (13.21) 9 40 (83.67)
  • Henry Ruggs III 29 581 (20.03) 6 81 (64.56)
  • Jaylen Waddle 24 319 (13.29) 1 39 (35.44)

The guy who wasn’t on any initial awards watch lists or listed on any preseason All-SEC team also tops the league in yards and receiving touchdowns.

Of course, everyone's since started to figure it out. Smith was named to the Associated Press Midseason All-American Team, and added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list prior to the Texas A&M game, joining teammates Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle.

“If you don’t know DeVonta Smith’s name by now, you still think he’s one of the lesser receivers or the third receivers in the corps you probably need to wake up because he runs his routes, he doesn’t take a lot of time running his routes, he gets into his routes," senior safety Jared Mayden said about his teammate. "He blocks. He finishes his runs. He competes. He goes out in practice and competes too. His hands, his jumping …

“I mean Smitty – he’s one of the top receivers in the nation.”

Although Smith got the jump on Stingley on that one play, it was a long day for the freshman. The junior receiver finished with 213 yards on seven catches, becoming the first Alabama wideout to post multiple 200-plus yard games since Amari Cooper in 2014 (he did it three times.

Smith got open on curls. There was a key 32-yard sideline snare and a 22-yard crossing catch to set up touchdowns. On the 85-yard touchdown, Alabama’s longest passing play of the season, he simply schooled the cornerback.

Overall, Smith averaged 30.4 yards per catch against the team that likes to call itself DBU.

“He has great hands, very versatile, can run good routes,” Alabama sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. said. “He’s the whole package. He could turn any play to a big play, so he’s a special player.”

Alabama obviously has a few of them at the position.

Jeudy is the reigning Biletnikoff winner. Anyone who saw Ruggs chase down the Tennessee player following an interception, and Waddle’s 77-yard punt return for a touchdown against LSU, is aware of their blazing speed.

All four receivers had at least 42 receptions, and averaged at least 16 yards per catch in 2018. They all block downfield as well, which helps make everyone a threat to go the distance on any reception.

Jeudy, who has been widely hailed as being a top pick in next year’s NFL draft (with Ruggs also considered a first-round talent) led the group with 68 catches for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns. Smith was slowed by a hamstring injury last season, but still had 693 yards on 42 catches for a 16.5 yards per catch average, and six touchdowns.

But it’s not Smith is taking advantage of favorable matchups because defenses are putting their best players on the other receivers. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will occasionally throw in different looks, but Alabama has been pretty steady with Jeudy in the slot, Ruggs at the Z and Smith at the X.

“I’m just going out here executing the game plan coach calls,” said Smith, who for the past year has been called the hands guy of the group. Yeah, right. 

Like that cornerback, he’s destroyed that label, becoming so much more and known for a lot more than scoring the game-winning overtime touchdown catch in the 2017 national championship game. 

He might be the player to beat for the Biletnikoff.

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