TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Despite maintaining success becoming increasingly difficult as the season has progressed, Alabama football senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith continues to impress on the gridiron.
Ask his teammate sophomore wide receiver John Metchie III about him and he'll let you know how impressive he thinks he's been this year.
“Defenses can try to lock in on DeVonta," Metchie said during Monday's press conference. "I don’t think — It’s kind of hard to stop somebody like that. Personally I think Smitty is the best player in college football right now."
Smith had yet another impressive outing this past Saturday in the Iron Bowl, putting up seven receptions, 171 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn’s defense. When a receiver like Smith has so much success, it grows difficult to maintain that success due to being double-teamed and opposing defense’s maintaining their focus on him.
You see this problem at both the college and the NFL level all the time. Julio Jones with the Atlanta Falcons is a prime example. While Jones is still one of the top-performing wide receivers in the league, the constant awareness and focus on him from opposing defenses makes his job more difficult than the average receiver.
Not that the job is easy for any wide receiver in the NFL, but you get the picture.
So what’s the solution to the problem? According to Alabama coach Nick Saban, move Smith around the field as much as possible.
“I think that you try to move him around the best you can,” Saban said. “It gets really hard to try to — especially in regular-down situations — and I think in regular-down situations is where Smitty has made a lot of his explosive plays. When I say regular-down situations, it's on play-action pass, it's on bubbles. It's not really third-down situations. [On] third down situations you have a little bit better chance when you know it's going to be a pass to try to take somebody out of the game."
In his senior season, Smith surpassed the all-time SEC career touchdown mark, breaking former Alabama receiver Amari Cooper’s record of 31 against Kentucky on Nov. 21. Smith now has 35 and looks to increase the gap between Cooper with several games left in the season. He is also now third in SEC history in receiving yards with 3,183, but the odds are low for him to pass Jordan Matthews’ record of 3,759 by season’s end.
With all of those accolades, it is certainly difficult for Smith to not catch the eye of defensive coordinators throughout the season.
Just ask sophomore defensive back Jordan Battle how difficult it is to defend Smith, even if only in practice.
“It’s very hard, very hard,” Battle said. “Great route runner, great technician, great speed, uses his hands. I mean, he’s a complete receiver. So, I’m pretty sure any DB guarding him, it’s gonna be a long, long, long day for you, long day. He beat me at practice a couple times, yeah, in the slot when we do one-on-ones. Yeah, he’s a tough guy to cover, tough guy.”
With still at least one more regular-season game to play as well as the SEC Championship and a potential College Football Playoff berth in Alabama’s future, Smith still has some more time to build upon his success as the season wraps up.
Saban credits Smith’s success to him being so versatile at his position, which will be a key factor in the final weeks of the 2020 season.
“The fact that we move him around a lot, and he's a smart guy, he can play all the positions, which is very helpful, because some guys that you have playing receiver, it's almost like the defense backs, some guys can just play corner, they can't play anything else,” Saban said. “Some guys can just play split end or X receiver as we call it. Other guys can only play Z or the flanker position, but in Smitty's case because he can play H, he can play X, you can play Z, I mean, we can move him all over the place.
“So that really makes it hard for the defense to track the guy and make adaptations and changes relative to formations. Especially when you're in run-pass situations, which is regular down type stuff. So I think [offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian] does a really good job of moving guys around and utilizing the personnel so that we can get the playmakers the ball. And that's always been something that has been really important to us.”