The 2021 NFL Draft is fast approaching and has what looks to be a pretty deep class of wide receivers, but could the Carolina Panthers take a chance on one?
The 2020 college football season gave us a lot to look at when it comes to wide receivers, including a Heisman winner. However, winning an award and putting up crazy numbers doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at the next level and this is something the Carolina Panthers have found out to their cost during their 26-year history.
Let’s take a closer look at the top six players from the incoming class and where they fall on our draft board – with one potentially coming into play for the Panthers should the opportunity arise after Curtis Samuel left in free agency for the Washington Football Team.
Wide Receiver No. 1
DeVonta Smith – Alabama
- Projected round – High-1st
- NFL comparison – CeeDee Lamb
- Projected role – No. 2 receiver
DeVonta Smith won the Heisman for a reason. The Alabama product hauled in over 1,800 receiving yards on 117 catches during the 2020 season, showing a consistent ability to be a reliable playmaker on the outside.
Smith has exceptional skills as a route runner with a quick cut that turns defenders and gets separation. This keeps defenders guessing as to where he will go, making them sit back more and play off the back foot which is a big gain waiting to happen.
He also has the ability to dig his foot in and change direction quickly, turning the field before defenders can react. That skill paired with an amazing at-line stutter step is just another weapon Smith uses to get open easily.
Once there is open space Smith has great hands and body control, the kinds of things that make his highlight reel one-handed catches and sideline toe taps possible.
Smith additionally shows the ability to run the ball on jet sweeps or short screens with good ball carrier vision and a willingness to take a big hit or lower one to get a few extra yards – something that is sure to have caught the eye of Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers during their assessment.
The only negative to Smith’s game would be his lack of size.
Smith’s smaller stature causes problems when going against larger or more physical defenders. When mismatched in size like that, he struggles to fight through the contact and tends to get pushed around and bullied at the line.
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Smith’s game evokes memories of what CeeDee lamb was able to accomplish in a talented, yet crowded, receiver room with the Dallas Cowboys. Always managing to get open and burning No. 2 corners while everyone’s eyes were on Amari Cooper.
Smith has all the skills and IQ needed to excel at the next level. While he may lack the size to be a true No. 1 receiver, he has everything a team looks for in a secondary target. Namely, the ability to get open consistently against smaller defenders.
The prospect will be taken highly and whichever team does select him will get a reliable target that can get the big play every now and then as well.