Everybody knows the Falcons don’t NEED a wide receiver. It’s the furthest thing from a necessity, but we’ve seen this organization overlook that in the past when they drafted Calvin Ridley. Of course, that was under Thomas Dimitroff, who was canned during the 2020 season and replaced by Terry Fontenot this offseason. They will not act similarly.
However, taking Ridley was Thomas Dimitroff drafting by the “best player available” method in its purest form, and its turned out to be one of his best first-round draft selections. One thing Terry Fontenot has made clear — the Falcons will be drafting the best players available, not for need. How can you talk about the best player available without discussing Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith?
Smith shocked many when he decided to forgo the 2020 NFL draft and return to Alabama for his senior season. He certainly wouldn’t have been regarded as highly as he is now, but there’s a good chance he would have been drafted inside the first round, along with his teammates Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy. But that’s a decision he will never regret.
After the Crimson Tide fell short in 2020, several high profile juniors chose to return for their senior seasons, citing unfinished business. They had a point to prove, and they proved it, throttling everyone in their path behind their record-breaking offense, led by Devonta Smith.
Smith went on to catch 117 passes for 1,856 yards and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns, running away with the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first wide receiver to do so since Desmond Howard in 1991.
Smith accomplished this by being extremely advanced in all areas of his game. His route tree is extensive, and he understands how to create separation. Once that happens, it’s over; Smith doesn’t drop anything. According to PFF, he has the lowest drop rate of any receiver over their college careers, and it’s not even close.
Speaking of those sticky hands, here is Smitty putting them to use, making arguably the catch of the year against LSU.
Derek Stingley Jr. has arguably been the best corner in college football over the last two seasons and will likely be a top-ten pick in the 2022 draft. Smith made him look inferior — not once, but twice.
Smith has long strides, and even though it doesn’t seem like he’s running that fast, he glides past defenders. Notre Dame and Ohio State found that out the hard way during the College Football Playoff. In six total quarters against the two teams, Smith tallied 19 receptions for 345 yards and six touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence and Mac Jones were deserving Heisman candidates, but those performances should have been enough to convince anyone that the award landed in the right hands.
As far as weaknesses, it doesn’t take a draft expert to point out the glaring one. Smith’s frame is not ideal; that’s a nice way of putting it. He’s 6’1″ and 170 pounds soaking wet. That’s not what the typical #1 wide receiver looks like in the NFL. But why it is something teams have to be wary of — as long as he can avoid injuries — his frame shouldn’t be a problem. Smith’s not a great blocker, but he plays far bigger than his size, and no team will be drafting him to block.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Devonta Smith will turn into a #1 receiver, but with the fourth overall pick, the question really is — is he the best receiver in the class? I would argue that Ja’Marr Chase and even Jaylen Waddle might be able to lay claim to this title.
Chase shares many similar attributes with Smith, except he’s 40 pounds heavier. He also put together just as good of a season as Smith’s in 2019, and he was 19-years-old. Smith is 22 — that’s quite a difference. However, you could also argue that Smith has four years of proof about just how great he is; Chase only has one.
Jaylen Waddle also belongs in this conversation because he’s a freak athlete that can affect the game in so many ways. We’ve seen what a receiver like Tyreek Hill can bring to an offense. Waddle has an opportunity to be that guy for whoever selects him.
There’s no question Smith would fit like a glove in Atlanta. Pairing him with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley would be unstoppable in Arthur Smith’s offense. It would also allow the Falcons to make a tough decision down the road regarding Jones and Ridley. Jones will not be worth his contract at some point, and Ridley may command more than Terry Fontenot would like to pay a #2 receiver. It would surprise me if the Falcons took Smith fourth overall, but given Fontenot’s philosophy, it is a possibility.