News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: DeVonta Smith has his work cut out for him

Jan. 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs for a 5-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles added to their passing game in a major way, trading up to No. 10 in order to select Alabama WR DeVonta Smith. The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner has faced plenty of scrutiny in regards to his 166-pound frame; just realize there weren’t many (any) collegiate corners that managed to bully Smith over the past four seasons.

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

What follows is a breakdown on what makes Smith such an intriguing prospect, whether or not he fits the mold of a great fantasy football QB, as well as what we should expect from him and this Jaguars offense in 2021.

Smith is small, but not on the football field

PFF stated the following about Smith in our 2021 NFL Draft Guide:

“It's difficult to find on-field cons for Smith. His weight will be brought up again and again over the course of the spring, but that's it. That's his con. Not his routes, his ball skills, his releases, his body control or his speed. When that's your only concern — and it hasn't even come to light as an issue on a college football field — then there's not much to be worried about. Smith is a versatile gamebreaker who just wins. That's a fit for any scheme in the NFL.”

It’d be a lot easier to write off Smith if we had examples of his size being an issue on the football field. Alas, all Smith did during his four years at Alabama was largely ball the hell out regardless of which poor defender was tasked with guarding him.

We simply didn't see Smith struggle in any area of the game in 2020. He posted an absurd PFF grade as an overall receiver (95.6), averaged an asinine 4.39 yards per route run and generally proved too dominant for any mere mortal to deal with.

Smith would be best served to work out of the slot and see plenty of pre-snap motion; just realize expecting him to struggle against NFL defensive backs is more of a projection than something we’ve actively seen slow him down on the football field.

Like most first-round WRs: Smith should have plenty of opportunities to make an impact early in his career.

Smith should immediately step into a large role

There have only been two rookie WRs drafted outside of the first three rounds who finished as a top-24 PPR performer since 2010: Mike Williams (the Tampa Bay one) and Tyreek Hill. The latter player undoubtedly would've been a Day 1 selection if it wasn't for off-the-field issues, while the former benefited from incumbent No. 1 WR Antonio Bryant’s retirement.

Keenan Allen is the only third-round WR to thrive as a rookie. The rest were top-two-round selections. The one thing the group (generally) has in common is the reality that each WR is extremely talented and went on to post multiple great seasons:

The 2020 WR class was touted as one of the best in recent memory. They accordingly make up 19% of this list; just realize it’s a bit more rare to see first-year pass-catchers rise up to the top of their depth chart compared to rookie RBs.

The problem: Smith finds himself in an offense that isn’t exactly cemented as one of the league’s better passing attacks.

Smith isn’t someone I’ll be actively pursuing in fantasy land

Yes, Smith doesn’t possess the sort of size that we would prefer. Also yes, he possesses every notable on-field skill that an elite WR should have. Obviously playing in an offense that sets up Smith for extra success with pre-snap motion and slot usage would be preferred; just realize the Heisman Trophy winner might just be the sort of blue-chip talent that winds up being the exception to the rule.

Jalen Hurts threw for over 300 yards in two of his four starts from last season; he’s hardly incapable as a passer. Still, this offense does project to be more of a run-first unit, and we could see Smith struggle to entirely separate from 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor as well as tight ends Zach Ertz (for now) and Dallas Goedert. This isn’t to suggest Smith isn’t the best pass-game option on the Eagles; the issue is simply that the No. 1 receiver on the Eagles had 79 targets last season.

Much like Jaylen Waddle: I’m more confident in Smith’s talent than his 2021 target share. He should settle in as a borderline WR3 to start the season; anything higher and I’ll likely be fading at an elevated cost.

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