Here’s the first installment of The Game Day’s 2021 NFL Draft Debate series: DeVonta Smith versus Ja’Marr Chase. The wide receivers (Smith from Alabama, Chase from LSU) are widely accepted and predicted to be the first two at their position selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, but who’s the 2021 NFL Draft’s top receiver? Well, the DeVonta Smith-Ja’Marr Chase question is one of the most complicated to answer in this year’s NFL Draft.
Two of our intrepid 2021 NFL Draft writers have taken one side of this brain-wracking debate over the 2021 NFL Draft’s top receiver. Anthony Cervino favors DeVonta Smith for the 2021 NFL Draft’s top wide receiver. Kev Mahserejian plants his flag with Ja’Marr Chase for the best wideout of the 2021 NFL Draft.
We’ll let the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner have the floor first.
DeVonta Smith vs Ja’Marr Chase: 2021 NFL Draft Debate
Why DeVonta Smith Is A Better NFL Prospect Than Ja’Marr Chase
Although the 2021 NFL Draft is still months away, tis’ the season to plant your flag on your guys while arguing for your player and against theirs. One of the most polarizing player-versus-player debate topics comes at the wide receiver position in the form of DeVonta Smith versus Ja’Marr Chase. Arguably, these top prospects at wide receiver could be positioned 1a and 1b. However, we still have to figure out who the top wideout in the 2021 draft class is.
Smith is, well, good. How good? Good enough to earn the Heisman Trophy honor. In fact, in the award’s 85-year existence, Smith is only the fourth wideout to win the Heisman and the first since Desmond Howard accomplished the feat back in 1991.
Heiman Trophy winners at wide receiver, listed with their accomplishments at the pro level:
Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska (1972)
While Rodgers had a short stint with the Chargers at the tail end of his career, he made a name for himself as a decorated star of the CFL.
Tim Brown, Notre Dame (1987)
NFL Hall of Famer. Enough said.
Desmond Howard, Michigan (1991)
Howard’s career as a wide receiver never really took off, but he earned Super Bowl 31’s MVP award for his contributions as a special teamer.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama (2020)
The sky is the limit.
As you can see, the variance of success differs for the three previous Heisman winners at wide receiver with an NFL Hall of Fame ceiling.
One of the biggest knocks on Smith is his size. While he is 6-foot-1, which is a respectable height for an NFL wideout, he is only weighing in at 175 pounds while donning a fairly slim body frame. Though he is taller than a player like Tyreek Hill (5-foot-10), Smith is 10 pounds lighter (Hill is 185). Hill has a deceptively thick build to pair with his cat-like speed.
When it comes to frame, I think, what if Smith is like Marquise Brown? Brown is 5-foot-9 and weighed 166 pounds coming out of college but bulked up to 180 pounds in his two seasons as a pro. The issue with Brown is that he has not quite reached his initially hyped ceiling at the pro level. Perhaps it is the Ravens’ offense, perhaps it is Lamar Jackson, or perhaps he is getting jammed at the line. Could the same issues happen with Smith?
Despite his very few shortcomings, Smith has the tangibles and intangibles to be a terrific NFL wideout. From his swiftness off the line and his superb route-running to his sticky hands and run-after-catch skill-set, Smith is a pure football player who also has the Football IQ to produce out the gate in the pros. He can also contribute as a blocker and will never come off the field.
Although Smith did not break out from the get-go, he played behind current NFL wideouts at Alabama that includes Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs — all early first-round picks in their draft years.
With both Jeudy and Ruggs being selected in last year’s NFL Draft, the door was open for Smith to emerge. Clearly, he did not disappoint. In his 2020 Heisman campaign, Smith hauled in 117 receptions for 1,856 yards with 24 total touchdowns (receiving and rushing).
In the NFL, Smith’s ceiling is the moon. On top of his superior route-running and abruptness at his breaks, Smith also possesses the speed to burn defenses deep while overcoming his size with his above-average ball-tracking skills. He will also use his abilities to create separation while finding a way to get open if a play breaks down, even if he has to break his route in the process.
On the other side, we have Chase, who has more size than Smith. Chase is 6-foot and weighs 208 pounds. Although Chase isn’t touted as an elite athlete, he is a polished route-runner with dependable hands. He also dominates contested catches while showcasing incredible body-control.
Contrary to Smith, however, Chase will not always win at the line of scrimmage nor will he consistently beat top-end cornerbacks at the pro-level. Though his size will help him discard bump coverage at the LOS when he’s getting jammed.
Despite the aforementioned crowded cast of wideouts at Alabama, Smith has been consistent in the scoring department, accumulating 47 career touchdowns at the collegiate level, including back-to-back seasons with 14+. Like Smith, Chase also has a 20+ touchdown season on his resume. However, he’s only logged 23 scores in his two-year career at LSU. Chase opted out in 2020 and did not have a chance to follow up his outstanding 2019 campaign in which he compiled an 84/1780/20 line.
While I have seen Chase compared to future Hall of Fame WR Larry Fitzgerald, I have seen Smith compared to an HOFer in his own right. Sure, Smith lacks in size, but so did Marvin Harrison. You know, that 6-foot 180-pound wideout who amassed 1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards with 128 touchdowns in his NFL career?
Although we may be splitting hairs here, I believe Smith will end up being taken ahead of Chase. Both should go in the first 10 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, but teams that include the Dolphins, Bengals, Eagles, and Lions are all picking in the top 10 and are in need of a ready-made receiver who can produce from day one.
Chase opted out last season and since we don’t know how COVID will affect this NFL offseason, it could take time for him to shake some rust off, unless he lands in Cincinnati with Joe Burrow, that is. Smith, on the other hand, has played all four years at Alabama and has shined despite elite competition in front of him at his position for three of those campaigns. —Anthony Cervino
DeVonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase are candidates to be selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and both hold (+275) odds, according to PointsBet.
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