2015 NFL Draft Spotlight: Ohio State WR Devin Smith

— The Baltimore Ravens have the “need for speed” as they enter the 2015 NFL season. The loss of Torrey Smith to the San Francisco 49ers stripped the Ravens of their fastest player. Quarterback Joe Flacco throws the deep ball as well as anyone in the NFL. He had zero hesitation to unleash a pass down the field for Torrey Smith to run under. Often times, the result was either a long reception or a penalty being called on the defensive back as he struggled to keep from getting burned.

The 2015 NFL Draft has a number of prospects that can run like a deer. One of those prospects is Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith. He consistently beat opposing defensive backs on deep routes from both the slot and over top of the numbers. Smith averaged 28.2 yards per reception. Even more astonishing is the rate in which he scored touchdowns. He was able to get the ball into the end zone every 2.75 times that he caught it.

There weren’t many receivers in college football that produced big plays like Smith did. He was able to produce an explosive play (25 or more yards) on 54.5% of the receptions that he made last season. Smith has the ability to threaten a corner-back right from his release. He is able to hit top speed within a few steps off the line of scrimmage. Most corners didn’t attempt to challenge him at the line of scrimmage yet he eliminated the cushion constantly.

The respect that Smith got from defensive backs allowed him to get a free release at the line but it gave the defensive backs a head start when covering deep attempts. Smith explained how he was able to overcome that when he said; “A lot of times, especially this past year, DBs played me off and press bailed a little bit. I had to use double moves and my speed to threaten them.”

Smith ran plenty of go routes and posts. The quarterbacks that threw him the ball simply let it go and allowed him to use is elite ability to track the ball down field. Smith is one of the best receivers in the last two or three years when it comes to tracking the deep pass. He is able to perfectly time when to put his hands out to catch deep throws. This allows him to run under the ball and never break stride unless the ball was under-thrown. There were a lot of times when he had to slow down for the ball which cost him a few more long touchdowns.

It is very clear that he has a natural feel for catching the ball over his shoulder. It doesn’t matter if the defender is in the area of the ball; he is able to get to the ball first. His jumps are timed perfectly. Having a 39 inch vertical certainly helps as well. Smith was a high jumper in high school and in college.

The video below shows how Smith can use his speed to get on top of a defender and make the contested catch for a touchdown. The game is the Big Ten Championship. Wisconsin is in a cover three look with apparent man coverage at the bottom against Smith. The corner blitzes off the edge at the snap. Notice that the safety is lined up 13 yards off of the line of scrimmage.

Smith knows that he has to get outside, away from the safety that is covering the deep third of the field. Smith widens his release to create more ground for the safety to cover. The safety retreats to his coverage assignment but Smith breaks down then accelerates, selling the stop and go without the help of a pump fake by the quarterback. It causes the safety to hesitate and Smith is even with him. At that point, the wide receiver mantra, “If I’m even, I’m leaving!” comes into play. Smith turns and locates the ball before the defensive back does. He sees that the ball is a bit under-thrown but high points the ball to perfection. At the same time, he shows great body control by getting both feet down and securing the catch all the way through his fall into the end zone.

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2015 NFL Draft Spotlight: Ohio State WR Devin Smith

. Smith averaged 28.2 yards per reception. Even more astonishing is the rate in which he scored touchdowns. He was able to get the ball into the end zone every 2.75 times that he caught it.

Having the ability to be a vertical threat to defenses opens up a lot of things. Defensive coordinators will be less likely to stack the box against the run because of their fear of giving up chunk plays. They will be more hesitant to leave their corners on an island one on one with a speed demon like Smith.

Smith knows that there will be some questions about whether or not he is a one trick pony that only runs deep routes. He has an explanation for why he ran so many deep routes and has made it a point to show that he can run the full route tree. “I can run every other route besides the go route.” Smith continued; “The system that I was in really mostly displayed me going deep because we were pretty good at it.”

In the NFL, there will be more and more corners that have a goal of disrupting Smith and not allowing him to fire up the instant gas that he is capable of off the line. Smith touched on a major thing that he will need to do in the NFL. “Speed is a key point in my release at the line. I don’t want to spend too much time at the line especially with an aggressive corner that will try to jam you. It’s all about using your hands to keep the DB off of you. Being fast AND physical is very important.” One thing that he didn’t mention is his ability to dip his shoulder to avoid grabby defensive backs that try to slow him down with contact during his routes.

Draft projection: 2nd Round

Why should the Ravens consider this prospect?

Devin Smith is one of those players that can have an impact on the game without touching the ball. He is a serious threat that will push defenses back and open up room for bigger, physical receivers such as Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Jeremy Butler to operate underneath. He will also take safeties with him and give Steve Smith Sr. have more space on the in breaking routes. It also sets up more one on one match ups for Michael Campanaro to run jerk routes against linebackers. Smith is a red zone threat especially if teams motion him to a shallow crossing route against man coverage.

Smith’s speeds will help the Ravens offense continue to avoid teams stacking the box. This reduces the amount of defenders at the line and allows the zone blocking scheme to create more lanes for Justin Forsett to run through.

Additionally, Smith is a player that will contribute right away as a gunner on special teams. He was one of the better gunners in college last year, frequently outrunning punts and downing them inside the ten yard line.

NFL Comparison: Jeremy Maclin

Smith made this comparison himself when he was asked in Indianapolis. The two players are almost identical in size. The only difference being Maclin was 198 pounds coming out of Missouri and Smith is 196 pounds. Both players have what is referred to as “easy speed.” They don’t labor to run yet they eat up a lot of ground quickly.

Like Maclin, Smith enters the NFL with questions about his route running. It is an area that he is still developing. However, both players are explosive leapers that high point the ball very well. They possess outstanding body control which allows them to make circus catches on the boundary as well.