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Only Injury Is Keeping DeAndre Smelter from Being Buzz of NFL Draft

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystApril 7, 2015

Georgia Tech's DeAndre Smelter, left, celebrates,  after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Clemson, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman/Associated Press

If you’ve never heard of wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, no one would blame you. Unless you are a fan of Georgia Tech, Smelter is a late-round draft prospect getting very little buzz. CBS Sports doesn’t have a round projection for Smelter, who is its 381st overall player. NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller has Smelter as his 39th wide receiver—261st player overall.

Part of the reason Smelter has slipped through the cracks is his unconventional path to the NFL draft. Smelter was out of football for four years while pursuing baseball, before shoulder issues forced him back onto the gridiron in 2013. The transition was remarkable, but a torn ACL suffered as a senior threatens to derail his promising second chance.

Smelter is the type of prospect that would normally be the buzz of the NFL draft. He is big, fast and productive, and he has the work ethic and the intelligence to go with it.

It’s quite possible that Smelter would have been one of the top five or six wide receivers in the quality 2015 class if not for his injury. The lack of buzz means that some team with a little forethought is going to get a late-round value with tremendous upside.

Missed Opportunities

The ACL injury put the kibosh on any workouts for Smelter before the draft. That’s unfortunate because Smelter is the kind of athlete who could have eased some of the concerns about his game after the season.  

NFL.com’s draft profile notes foot quickness, needing an extra step to gear down and his ability to separate from athletic cornerbacks as weaknesses. They also note his limited exposure to a full route tree.

Had Smelter not torn his ACL, he could have participated in the Senior Bowl with a chance to go up against some of the best cornerbacks in the country. A stellar combine performance would have answered some of the concerns about his quickness and agility, which are relatively minor concerns.   

Elite Size Without the Workout Numbers
PlayerHeightWeightArmHand
DeAndre Smelter6'2"22632 5/8"11"
Kevin White6'3"21532 5/8"9 1/4"
Devante Parker6'3"20933 1/4"9 1/4"
Jaelen Strong6'2"21732 1/2"9"
Breshad Perriman6'2"21232"9 1/4"
NFL.com

The injury has deprived us of the opportunity to learn more about Smelter, but what we do know about him is that he’s big. At the combine, Smelter measured 6’2” and 226 pounds with 32 5/8” arms and 11” hands.

Smelter fits the profile of a big NFL wide receiver, with mitts that are a full inch larger than Alabama star Amari Cooper's. His hands are nearly two inches larger than West Virginia’s Kevin White, which boggles the mind.

Smelter just doesn’t have the media-friendly athletic testing numbers to drive the hype train. No one can say Smelter is a 4.4-second player in the 40-yard dash or that he touts a sub-7.0-second three-cone drill. No one knows for sure if he’d have a good broad or vertical jump.

All Smelter has is his on-field production. He has 25 games as a collegiate football player for scouts to dissect, but in those games, we see a receiver who has come a long way in a limited amount of time. The team that recognizes an undervalued talent and doesn’t buy into draft hype will reap the benefits of drafting Smelter.

Top-Level Production

In his first year playing college football, Smelter understandably started slow. He caught 21 balls in 13 games, but with a solid 16.4 yards per reception and four touchdowns.

As a senior, he made the jump. In 12 games, Smelter caught 35 balls for 715 yards and seven touchdowns, and he added three carries for 103 yards and another score rushing.

Smelter’s 20.4 yards per catch was seventh best in the nation on at least 30 receptions. Of draft-eligible prospects, he finished just behind Ohio State’s Devin Smith, Miami’s Phillip Dorsett, Auburn’s Sammie Coates and Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman. Most expect all four to go off the board within the first two rounds of the upcoming draft.

30+ Receptions & 20.0 Yards Per Reception in first 12 Games
PlayerRecYdsAvgTDConsensus Round Projection
Breshad Perriman4190622.191-2
Phillip Dorsett3182626.692
Devante Parker357352151
Sammie Coates3071723.942
Deandre Smelter3571520.477-UDFA?
Sports-Reference.com

It’s a limited sample size, but it suggests Smelter is more than some late-round wide receiver with limited odds of NFL success. He compared favorably with the wide receivers in the second tier of this wide receiver class, but with considerably more upside than many of them.

Smelter did all this in his second collegiate season in an option offense that just didn’t throw the ball that much. Smelter makes enough contested catches to justify a higher workload, but he didn’t get that at Georgia Tech.

Some Assembly Required

Smelter is everything you want in a wide receiver on video. He can run after the catch, he can get deep, he can use his body to make contested catches, he has soft hands and he takes blocking seriously. He’s not perfect because he has a lot to learn still about the position, but if he’s willing to work, there’s very little he can’t accomplish with his raw ability.

One of the areas where Smelter could be more consistent is catching the ball away from his frame. He too often let the ball get into his chest, even though it didn’t result in a significant issue with drops.

There are more than a few examples of Smelter snatching balls away from his body, so we know he is capable of doing it. It’s just a matter of becoming more comfortable and consistent. This is one example in which he snared an errant pass out of the air using only his hands.

When it comes to blocking, Smelter does a lot more than just get in the way. Smelter is one of the few wide receivers willing to put his shoulder into blocks. You can tell he was a safety in high school. After seeing him pancake defenders, there should be no lingering concerns that the shoulder issues that ended his baseball career have limited him on the football field.

A run-first team looking for a red-zone weapon could very easily get something out of Smelter early in his NFL career. While he learns to run the entire route tree and the nuances of playing the position at the pro level, he’ll be able to come in and help an offense in many different ways.

For a big receiver, Smelter has surprising acceleration and wiggle after the catch. He can also run through arm tackles by smaller defensive backs when necessary.

He has also proven he can take a bubble screen and gain positive yards, much like former Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has with the Denver Broncos. Like Thomas, it may take Smelter some time to develop at the pro level.   

Despite being new to the positive, Smelter has surprising understanding of how to create separation and get open. Smelter can eat up space between himself and the defender quickly to put them at a huge disadvantage. At the top of his route, he also knows how to use the subtle push that has made big receivers so hard to cover at the NFL level.

Last, but certainly not least, Smelter can win jump balls. Big receivers with long arms and big hands have to be able to win 50-50 balls at the pro level to maximize their height advantage. Smelter has proven he can come down with more than his fair share of them.

 

Conclusion

In a scenario where Smelter could have finished his senior season, participated in all-star games and run at the NFL combine, he could have been one of the most buzzworthy prospects in this class. Instead, Smelter remains on the fringe of his second dream hoping a team will see him as a receiver worth developing.

The team that isn’t scared away by his ACL injury or Smelter’s age as a developmental prospect could reap a significant reward a year or two down the line. Teams like the Green Bay Packers or Baltimore Ravens who have consistently developed their own talent would be good fits, among other patient teams.


Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Sports-Reference.