More than 330 players participated last week in Indianapolis, and each of them came in with something to prove. Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith knew he would run a good 40, and everyone expected the former NCAA sprinter and high jumper to post excellent measurables. But what no one expected, and what Smith was pining for, was positive reviews for his route-running.
Primarily a deep ball threat at Ohio State, with big-armed Cardale Jones finding him downfield consistently late in the season, Smith disappeared in some games (during one three-game stretch last season he caught four passes total). The conventional wisdom in the scouting community was that Smith was a one-trick pony with questionable intermediate route-running. Thus, Smith spent the better part of his combine prep fine-tuning his cuts at EXOS in San Diego. Rather than take a break after winning a national championship and participating in the Senior Bowl, he bypassed a chance to spend some time at home in Akron and began training immediately.
“I wanted to work on the slants, the ins, the outs, curls,” Smith says. “Everybody knows I can go deep. I’ve displayed that throughout my whole career. It kind of frustrates me when people say that’s all I can do because I know I can run all the other routes. I ran them all in high school and college.”
And he ran them all in Indianapolis, to positive reviews. He caught almost everything, too. Said one NFC scout: “He looks like your classic guy who was hamstrung in a system and got pegged, when in reality he can do a lot.”
Sixteen teams interviewed Smith, projected as a second-round pick. Educated guess: The Raiders, Rams, Chiefs and Ravens will be in the Smith market come April.
Said Smith: “I just feel like, with the offense we were in, we’re just gonna run the go because we’re so good at it. We’ve got a big-armed quarterback so we used that to our advantage and did it a little more than other teams.”
A lot more. More than half of Smith’s catches in 2014 went for 25 yards or more. In addition, Smith lined up as a gunner on the punt team, and didn’t realize it was a big deal to have the best receiver playing special teams until Urban Meyer pulled him aside after the Wisconsin game junior year and congratulated him on a punt team stop inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.
“He called it solving the mystery,” Smith says. “He saw not just my play grow but everybody’s play grow.”
Smith was uniquely capable for all that running. He starred on the Buckeyes’ track team up until his junior year, never taking more than three days off between seasons. After the Orange Bowl in early 2014, Smith would wake up for 6 a.m. football workouts, then class, then track workouts in the early evening. The last time he took a week off of running?
“Probably sixth grade.”
Such was his reputation for speed that his 4.42 40-yard dash disappointed some, including one AFC scout I spoke with: “He ran just O.K. for a legitimate deep threat. He was expected to be much faster.”
It’s the combine. Everyone’s a critic.