TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — DeVonta Smith's the best receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft, right?
It only makes sense. He won the Heisman Trophy. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football, plus Smith set not only numerous Alabama program records but Southeastern Conference career marks.
Normally, that would be a slam dunk in terms of draft evaluations, or at least it would for a lot of teams.
However, this isn't a normal draft.
Players opted out last year. There's no NFL combine. Last season was atypical as well due to the coronavirus.
Smith has competition from three other players to be the first selected from a very strong field of receivers. There's LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, who opted out last season, former teammate Jaylen Waddle, and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
Four numerous analysts weighed in this week on who was the best NFL receiving prospect, and not surprisingly all gave different answers. It's reflective of how the teams are viewing the players as well.
“I think he’s got some grit to him, I’m a big fan,” Sports Illustrated analyst Jim Mora Jr. said about Smith. “I don’t worry about his size.”
Not having ideal size is the one knock against Smith, as he's considered thin for the NFL. However, it obviously didn't affect him much with the Crimson Tide, only motivating him more.
“It's a yellow flag, but I don’t think it’s a red flag," Mora said. "We talk about these measurables, and people laugh when you measure hand size, wrist size, or the circumference of the knee, but these pro scouts are going to analyze his body and they’re going to look at growth potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if they measured his bone density, to see if he can stand up to the rigors of pro football. I believe he is.
“Number one, you can’t catch him. He’s hard to tackle. He’s not going to take a lot of hits. You know what I mean? He’s so elusive, he’s so quick. He’s got an extra gear that you rarely see. And I think like I said he’s been through some pretty darn physical Alabama practices.”
Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN is in agreement.
The player he keeps comparing Smith to is Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison, who at 6-foot, 175 pounds out of Syracuse was the 19th-overall pick in 1996.
"He was uncoverable against top competition," Kiper said about Smith last seaosn. "In terms of weight, what are we talking about here?"
Of course, not everyone sees it that way.
Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network, who used to work with Ozzie Newsome and Phil Savage with the Baltimore Ravens, likes the added size with Chase (6-1, 200).
“To me it would be Ja'Marr Chase just because of everything he can do,” Jeremiah said. “I think a lot of times when you're watching receivers, you see guys with — guys that can win with separation and quickness and you see guys that can win with physicality and kind of contested catches. When you watch him at LSU in 2019, you see examples of both, where he can separate from people off the line of scrimmage, he can separate at the top of his route.
"He plays big to go up and get the football, and then after the catch he gives you that strength and physicality to break tackles. He's to me the best receiver in the draft."
Kiper says of the difference between Chase and Smith “You’re splitting hairs there.”
Jeremiah feels the same way about Smith and Waddle, although a little extra speed was how Henry Ruggs III went before Jerry Jeudy in the 2020 NFL Draft.
What makes Waddle, who is coming off an ankle injury, and Pitts especially interesting is that both stand out from everyone else in other ways. That makes them unique.
At tight end, Pitts is an extremely difficult matchup for any defense.
Waddle is an elite returner (although Smith showed he's outstanding as well).
"Well, what separates Jaylen Waddle from a bunch of other good slot-type receivers in this year's draft is he's not just quick — he's quick and fast," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy recently said on ESPN's SportsCenter.
"The other thing that just separates Waddle is the return ability. He's the best college returner I've evaluated since Devin Hester, who is the GOAT, as we all know."
Each team is going to evaluate them within the contest of their own needs and personnel, although in terms of production Smith clearly stands alone.
Either way, all four can expect to hear their names among the first 15 picks, just like Jeudy and Ruggs last year.
Tracking the Mock Drafts
Roy Countryman of the NFL Draft Bible did a full seven-round mock draft, which also featured 55 free agent moves including defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson to the New England Patriots, and numerous trades including tight end O.J. Howard being dealt to the Los Angeles Chargers.
It projected a record-tying six Crimson Tide players selected in the first round, and 11 overall:
7. Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle: WR
8. Houston Texans from Carolina Panthers: Mac Jones: QB
11. NY Giants: DeVonta Smith: WR
16. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Surtain II: CB
18. Miami Dolphins: Najee Harris: RB
27. Baltimore Ravens: Landon Dickerson: C
14. Carolina Panthers from New England Patriots: Alex Leatherwood: OT
18. Miami Dolphins: Christian Baramore: DT
17. Miami Dolphins: Dylan Moses: LB
23. Seattle Seahawks: Deonte Brown: OG
29. Cleveland Browns from Buffalo Bills: Miller Forristall: TE
NFL Draft Bible positional rankings
Todd McShay's latest mock draft includes an epic run on Crimson Tide players during the first round.
8. DeVonta Smith, WR, Lions
9. Mac Jones, QB, 49ers (via trade with Broncos)
10. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Cowboys
11. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Giants
24. Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
Chad Reuter did his initial four-round mock draft, which also included numerous Alabama players, with six in the first round. Although he has Landon Dickerson dropping to the third round, and the chances of the Rams taking another Alabama linebacker coming off an injury after Terrell Lewis last year are slim, there's interesting twist in the first round.
Reuter has the Saints jumping up in the first round to No. 14, ahead of the Patriots, to take the successor to Drew Brees, and then New England subsequently moving down.
9. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Broncos
11. DeVonta Smith, WR, Giants
14. Mac Jones, QB, Saints (mock trade)
15. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Washington (mock trade)
17. Christian Barmore, DT, Raiders
18. Najee Harris, RB, Dolphins
39. Alex Leatherwood, OL, Panthers
67. Landon Dickerson, OL, Texans
101. Dylan Moses, LB, Rams
130. Deonte Brown, G, Seahawks
2021 NFL Draft order
No., Team, Record
- Jacksonville Jaguars 1-15
- New York Jets 2-14
- Miami Dolphins (via 4-12 Houston Texans)
- Atlanta Falcons 4-12
- Cincinnati Bengals 4-11-1
- Philadelphia Eagles 4-11-1
- Detroit Lions 5-11
- Carolina Panthers 5-11
- Denver Broncos 5-11
- Dallas Cowboys 6-10
- New York Giants 6-10
- San Francisco 49ers 6-10
- Los Angeles Chargers 7-9
- Minnesota Vikings 7-9
- New England Patriots 7-9
- Arizona Cardinals 8-8
- Las Vegas Raiders 8-8
- Miami Dolphins 10-6
- Washington Football Team 7-9
- Chicago Bears 8-8
- Indianapolis Colts 11-5
- Tennessee Titans 11-5
- New York Jets (via 12-4 Seattle Seahawks)
- Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
- Jacksonville Jaguars (via 10-6 Los Angeles Rams)
- Cleveland Browns 11-5
- Baltimore Ravens 11-5
- New Orleans Saints 12-4
- Green Bay Packers 13-3
- Buffalo Bills 13-3
- Kansas City Chiefs 14-2
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5
This story will be regularly updated up to the 2021 NFL Draft