Amite City, a small town in southeastern Louisiana, derived its name from the French word “amitie”, meaning friendship. Despite the close-knit connection between the roughly 4,400 residents throughout the community, the town gave birth to a special player who is all but cordial to opposing defensive backs. Devonta Smith’s talents have been well sought after since the first time he donned the purple and yellow of Amite High School. Many in the recruiting world believed he would continue to wear that color scheme into his college years, as Baton Rouge was just over an hour from his high school. Even so, Smith initially rejected the LSU offer, in favor of joining Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs. He de-committed shortly after Richt left Athens to lead the Miami Hurricanes, eventually concluding a lengthy recruitment process by signing with Alabama. After four years of bullying SEC defenses, Smith has put himself in a position to be one of the first receivers selected in April.
Vincent Sanders, a long-time mentor of Smith, guaranteed that Smith would win the Heisman Trophy before he left college.
Someone get Sanders on the line for this week’s Powerball numbers.
Smith’s college career began in a crowded Crimson Tide receiving room, but he made the most of his eight receptions, going for 160 yards and three touchdowns. His biggest catch of his freshman campaign came when the lights were the brightest, reeling in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagavailoa in overtime to win the National Championship against Georgia. Although his production increased in his sophomore year, his 42 receptions for 693 yards landed him fifth on the team behind Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle and Irv Smith Jr.
Smith’s 68 receptions for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns during his junior season began to gain him some traction among the media, as he was named Second Team All-American and First Team All-SEC by the Associated Press. His 14 receiving touchdowns tied for second in Alabama history, and he was the first Crimson Tide wide receiver since Amari Cooper in 2014 with multiple games of 200-plus receiving yards. Surprisingly, Smith decided to return to Tuscaloosa for his senior season and proceeded to shatter receiving records for Alabama. On his way to being the first receiver since 1991 to win the Heisman Trophy and the third Crimson Tide player to receive the illustrious honor, he recorded 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. Smith holds the Tide career records for all three major receiving statistics with 235 receptions, 3,965 yards and 46 touchdowns.
Film Review: Strengths & Weaknesses
The first thing that jumps off the screen when watching Smith is his ability to win at all three levels. Alabama utilized him on a number of bubble and tunnel screens, which he flashed his ability to make plays in the open field. However, he was dominant on his intermediate routes, where Smith was able to instinctively recognize holes in coverage and cut off his routes early to find lanes. His long strides paired with his fluidity ate up space quickly and made him a tough cover on vertical routes. Even when the coverage was great, because of his length and timing on jumps, Smith was capable of making contested catches look fairly effortless. With all that being said, his best trait is his multitude of releases and ability to adapt on the fly using subtlety and quickness. Smith sells his double-moves extremely effectively, leaving defenders in ‘no man’s land’ after the initial route. Far too often, you saw cornerbacks underestimate his speed releases off the line and out of routes, leaving an easy pitch-and-catch between Smith and Mac Jones.
There are many questions regarding his slight frame, and his decision not to weigh in at the Senior Bowl amplified these concerns. There are simply only a handful of examples of players with Smith’s dimensions that went on to dominate at the next level. However, he has proven throughout his career that he is capable of countering physical defenders in a number of ways, allowing one to believe Smith is a true outlier. Analytics fanatics will say that he did not truly break out until his senior year, when he was playing against defenders much younger than him. While this might be a fair point, again, people should be willing to recognize that Smith is an exception to many of the rules we tend to gauge receivers on.
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