DeVonta Smith vs Ja’Marr Chase: Who’s 2021 NFL Draft’s Top Wide Receiver?
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.
Think one of them will land with the Miami Dolphins — or another team — with the third selection in the 2021 NFL Draft?
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Heck — you don’t even have to take a side in the DeVonta Smith-Ja’MArr Chase debate. Place a bet on both Smith and Chase to see if one lands!
Ja’Marr Chase Is A Better NFL Prospect Than DeVonta Smith
Ja’Marr Chase asserted himself into the national college football spotlight as a true sophomore at LSU. In 14 games, Chase accrued 84 receptions, 1780 receiving yards, and 20 touchdowns, an SEC record.
While DeVonta Smith did just break that short-lived mark with 23 TDs in 2020, credit Chase for doing so while two years younger. Chase and Smith were both top-100 recruits out of college. Smith was 42nd overall in 2017, while Chase was 67th in 2018 according to 247sports.com.
The age disparity is not as big of a demarcation point as the point in which these players statistically “broke out” in college.
Chase, as previously stated, did so as a college sophomore while Smith was a junior. Both were faced with playing elite competition, making that excuse null and void.
An argument could be made that Chase produced with even more barriers around him after seeing Justin Jefferson shatter the NFL rookie receiving-yardage record. With the Tigers, Chase dominated red-zone looks and outproduced Jefferson while Jefferson was a junior and Chase was a sophomore.
Could a case be made for Jefferson’s presence easing up the field for Chase to produce? Sure! But the same could be said for DeVonta Smith’s production leading up to 2020, when he was realistically the only target in town after Jaylen Waddle‘s injury.
Waddle could honestly have a case as Alabama’s true WR1 given that he massively out-produced Smith over their last 7 games together while Waddle was healthy (numbers courtesy of Ikey Azar).
- Jaylen Waddle: 33 catches, 924 yards, 9 touchdowns
- DeVonta Smith 50 catches, 713 yards, 7 touchdowns
DeVonta Smith has reportedly played around 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, while Chase stands at a sturdy 6-foot, 208 pounds. Ja’Marr Chase’s frame is ideal when translating to the NFL due to the size and strength of opposing defenders.
Beating your man downfield is one thing. Getting past the first five yards of the line of scrimmage is another.
There is a huge reason why a hullabaloo is made on Twitter via its plethora of analytics-centered fantasy analysts. They recognize that for undersized WRs like DeVonta Smith to win, it will take either adding weight that does not take away from their game or a technique so sound that defenders never had a chance to get a hand on him in the first place.
Luckily for Smith, his game is predicated on fluidity, feet, and technique. While he can use his hands well to get away from defenders in space, concern still stands if an imposing defensive back jams him.
Chase does not come with those worries whatsoever, which makes him the 2021 NFL Draft’s top receiver. His best trait is winning at the LOS. Chase is a physical presence who looks for contact to beat his man. While Chase may not be a deep threat — his biggest issue is downfield separation — he can get himself open almost immediately, play through contact, and win 50-50 jump-ball situations by not allowing defenders to gain leverage.
Both Chase and Smith are threats with the ball in their hands. Smith can win with his shiftiness, cutting on a dime to make defenders miss. Chase can do the same to a lesser extent while also ramming through and breaking tackles. He led the NCAA in broken tackles and YAC. However, the caveat must be placed that this was done so during a 14-game season. Most teams only play 12 or 13 depending on if they qualify for a bowl/conference championship.
Of all WRs in the country who were targeted at least 50 times last season, no one had more broken tackles (23) or yards after contact (411) than Ja’Marr Chase.
Lethal threat before and after the catch. Potential to be an NFL WR1 right away.
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) August 30, 2020
Nevertheless, the point of this battle is not to demean one WR for the sake of lifting the other up, it is merely a process for finding which one is the better NFL prospect with less of a chance to bust and higher odds of reaching the heights of an elite WR.
Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith are both incredible prospects, making the Smith-Chase 2021 Draft question difficult. However, Chase has a much lower chance of being a bust than Smith, whose frame is a much bigger concern than any singular part of Chase’s game that may be considered a flaw. —Kev Mahserejian
Who’s the better 2021 NFL Draft Prospect? Choose the 2021 NFL Draft’s top receiver for yourself
- Ja’Marr Chase NFL Draft Prospect Profile & Scouting Report
- DeVonta Smith NFL Draft Prospect Profile & Scouting Report