We continue our series on the 2017 National Signing Day class that won a national championship. We’ve previously covered Tua Tagovailoa (here) and Najee Harris (here.)
Today, we move to the outside, with DeVonta Smith and the biggest catch by a freshman in Alabama history, maybe in college football history.
DeVonta Smith’s commitment to Alabama was no sure thing. The four-star prospect out of Louisiana had originally been committed to Georgia (ironic, that.) However, he decommitted late in the process and opened it back up with three schools seriously in the mix: LSU (who had trailed throughout the process), FSU (who made a furious push after the departure of WR Coach Billy Napier), and Alabama. And, just 10 days out from NSD, no one really had a good read on Smith’s intentions — particularly with Tyrell Shaver, Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy all being targets or already on campus. CB and Brent’s general feeling was that the speedster from Amite would eventually don the Script A.
Then, on Feb. 1, on the eve of signing day, Smith did commit to the Tide. He was the Tide’s remaining wide receiver priority, and he felt enough love to head to Tuscaloosa. When he gave his verbal commit, I was particularly excited about his explosiveness and the potential to turn even routine plays into home runs.
The 6’1”, 157 burner out of Amite, Louisiana is the third-ranked prospect at his position this class. He is a tremendously explosive receiver that plants and then makes moves in the open field — think Deandre Hopkins or AJ Green-type speed and glissando body control. This is a player Alabama can rely on to turn short gains into touchdowns. In the Tide’s ball control option passing attack, that is invaluable.
Brent wasn’t particularly wowed with Smith’s athleticism or speed, but it was hard to overlook the fact that he just makes big play after big play:
I’m going to forego my usual template of pros and cons because Devonta Smith is a unique and intriguing prospect. He’s quite frail at only 157 pounds, has a bit of an awkward running form, and doesn’t look to be all that fast or overly athletic.
Yet he makes big play after big play. Throw the ball up in the corner of the endzone, and Smith will come down with it, whether he manages to get one hand or two on it. Maybe it’s a juggling catch, or maybe it bounces off a defender first, either way, Smith somehow ends up with the ball.
And, we definitely departed on Smith’s role in the offense. Whereas I believed he could be a good option on the go route matched up against nickel or dime corners distracted by Foster and Ridley, Brent...well...poor Brent. Don’t go to Vegas, buddy (although, props on the overtime call!)
As a receiver, I don’t really expect him to contribute much this year, but I see him following a similar career arc to DeAndrew White: a steady rotation player all four years on campus that will disappear for many games at a time before suddenly making some highlight reel one-handed catch or pulling in a fade in the back of the endzone in overtime.
That said, when Fall camp started, Smith had a monster August -- having the lowest drop rate of any of the receivers. So much so, that even the preternaturally pessimistic Mr. Taylor had changed his tune:
By all accounts Devonta Smith continues to impress. I’ve said since he signed with the Tide that I expect him to redshirt this year due to the senior depth ahead of him and his 165-pound frame. However, it seems I’ve heard his name mentioned about every other week all season, and all the defensive backs seem to really respect his speed. The article also states that he’s had the lowest drop rate all summer (though I don’t know where those numbers came from). If he keeps it up, we just might see some of Smith in action this year.
That great fall camp was rewarded: Devonta saw action in 13 games, recording a catch in seven of them (156 yards, 3 TDs). Though he did not have a multi-catch game as a true freshman, he was decidedly the big play threat we all thought he could be: all seven of his receptions were for either first downs or touchdowns — and that’s a nifty stat.
But, of course, Smith’s crowning moment came on the last play of the last game of the 2017-2018 Crimson Tide season: he blew by his defender on the inside nine-route, using just the slightest hip fake to the sideline, and looked in a beautiful flat throw over his shoulder, hauling in a 41-yard touchdown for the score, win, and championship.
And, so the play that may live to haunt Georgia fans the most was borne with a story of the one that got away.