If the New York giants ultimately decide they want to add another pass-catching weapon for Daniel Jones with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, something in-the-know draft analysts increasingly seem to believe they do, that means they could be deciding between Alabama wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
So, in this week’s Big Blue View Round Table we asked our staff to choose between those two terrific, but very different Crimson Tide receivers.
This week’s question is pretty simple:
“Make the case: DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle at No. 11?”
Chris Pflum — Jaylen Waddle
There’s a lot to like about DeVonta Smith. He’s tough, has great hands, and is (probably) the best route runner in this draft. However, when it comes to projecting both players into the NFL, I have to go with Waddle.
Historically, only one player weighing 170 pounds (or less) at the time of the draft has gained 1,000 or more yards in a season, and that player is DeSean Jackson. Smith was very productive in college, but it would be a definite historical outlier for him to carry that production over to the NFL.
And while Jackson and Smith might share a slight build playing in the 160’s, Jackson is much faster and more explosive. As an athlete, Jackson is more comparable to Waddle, who brings that same kind of electric explosiveness to the field. Likewise, Waddle simply gives an offensive coordinator more options. To my eye, Smith’s home in the NFL is as a slot receiver in a West Coast offense. Waddle can play a wider variety of roles in a wider variety of schemes. He could be an option as a slot receiver, or he could be a deep threat Flanker in a vertical scheme, or he could go into motion and be a threat on jet sweeps, or he could even line up in the backfield.
I also tend to think that Waddle’s athleticism distracts from all the little things he does so well. He might not be quite the route runner that Smith is, but he has an underrated savvy to his game. He does a great job of using the threat of his speed to force defensive backs to respect the vertical pass, while using sharp breaks to work back to the ball quickly. He also
Waddle also understands that just because he is fast, that doesn’t have to leave scorch marks on the turf on every rep. He often runs at less than full speed, only to turn on the afterburners, break defenders’ angles, split bracket coverage, and out-run the entire defense.
He also has plenty of toughness himself. Waddle doesn’t shy away from contact at all — he is a willing (and good) blocker in the run game and will lay out to bail out his quarterback and make tough catches over the middle.
And finally, to circle back to the stats and production argument, I want to remind folks of just what kind of pace Waddle was on when he got hurt. He had well over 100 yards each of his four games, with 134, 142, 120, and 161 yards, and an average of 23.0 yards per catch. Waddle was on pace for 1,810 yards over 13 games, and that’s not even counting potential monster games against the likes of Texas A&M or LSU. 2020 was supposed to be Waddle’s break-out year, and he was on pace to make that prediction come true. Had he not been injured, he could well have won the Heisman trophy and not Smith.
Nick Falato — Jaylen Waddle
I won’t sugarcoat this...I really like both of the Alabama kids. Devonta Smith is one of the better route runners to come out of college. He has incredible hands, uses subtleties to manipulate DBs in man coverage, and he plays much bigger than his frame. The concerns about his ability to defeat press really didn’t show up on his tape - his release package is extensive and he does a great job attacking defender’s leverage. I understand weight concerns, I think it’s fair, but it didn’t translate to him losing versus press against top SEC opponents.I love Smith, but I’m still going with Jaylen Waddle who is a nuanced receiver in his own right, who also possesses contested catch ability. Waddle improved his release in 2020 and he had the X factor of just dominant, elite level, speed and explosiveness. His mere presence on the field will put automatic fear into defensive coordinators; combine that with a dynamic explosive playmaker like a healthy Saquon Barkley and the a lot of opportunities will open up for Daniel Jones and the offense. Waddle’s usage on quick screens, jet sweeps, and other plays near the line of scrimmage will be valuable, but he’s effective at every level of the field, while being a dynamic, blow the top off the defense, type of receiving threat that will open up the middle of the field for Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and the tight ends.
Joseph Czikk — DeVonta Smith
The Giants should invest in Smith if he’s on the board. While most teams with a proven number one receiver like Kenny Golladay may deem the position “sufficient,” I argue that the Giants need to hit another home run after a few years of mediocrity at the receiver position.
They need to load up Daniel Jones with as many threats as possible. If they do get Smith, it will also provide us a better lens through which to judge Jones. He’ll now have all the weapons, and it would now be time for DJ to produce.
Everything about DeVonta Smith screams success. It would be difficult for me not to push for the Heisman-winner and CFP National Championship MVP.
Smith appears to be a one-of-a-kind prospect. It was 20 years ago the last time a wide receiver won the Heisman. And just three other receivers have ever done that in Michigan’s Desmond Howard (1991), Notre Dame’s Tim Brown (1987) and Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers (1972).
College success certainly doesn’t assure success in the NFL. I wrote the above to point out just how rare DeVonta Smith’s college resume is. And it’s not like Smith only produced a great senior season. Remember, this guy caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the CFB National Championship in his freshman year! That was a 51-yarder from then-rookie and current Miami Dolphin Tua Tagovailoa.
Ryan Magill — DeVonta Smith
Of all the roundtable discussions we’ve had so far, this one is the toughest. I believe both Waddle and Smith are lethal playmakers who will elevate any squad they join, and they will have great NFL careers wherever they are drafted. To me though, the slightest of edges goes to DeVonta Smith.
Smith had shown flashes of greatness through his first few seasons in Tuscaloosa. These included a monster game in 2019 against Ole Miss where he set Alabama single-game receiving records with 274 yards and five touchdowns, and also catching the overtime game-winner in the 2018 National Championship over Georgia. Despite all that, Smith was seen as the “other guy” on the depth chart behind the upperclassmen veterans like Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy as well as the talented youngster in Waddle.
Returning for his senior year (rather than declaring for 2020 alongside Jeudy and Ruggs) proved to be the best decision Smith ever made. He was on pace for his best season ever before Waddle got hurt. He wasn’t just the primary option at that point, he was effectively the ONLY option. Yet despite battling the best corners in the SEC/NCAA on a weekly basis, despite it being known that he was the offensive focal point of the Bama squad, and despite only weighing about 170-180 pounds at 6-foot-1 and not being that true “burner” Waddle is, Smith didn’t just hold it down. He got BETTER.
After Waddle went down against Tennessee, Smith put up 1,300 of his total 1,856 yards last season when Waddle was gone. He gained 130+ yards and scored 2+ touchdowns in all but one game following Waddle’s injury (which was their final game of the season against Arkansas, after they’d secured SEC Championship berth). He also notched 215 yards and 3 touchdowns in one half against #3 Ohio State before leaving with an injury and still won Offensive MVP.
Waddle is absolutely great. However, DeVonta Smith carried one of the greatest collegiate offenses ever on his back and will go down as one of the greatest college football players of all time. Smith would undeniably be a top 3 pick if he were taller and bigger. But he knows that, and openly invites the criticism because it fuels his fire to greatness. And with him in the slot alongside the new-look Giants offense, you better get ready for fireworks.
Emily Iannaconi — DeVonta Smith
DeVonta Smith is the receiver to take if he is still available for the Giants at No. 11.
Smith’s accomplishments are well-documented and unmatched. He recorded 44 catches of 15-plus yards in 2020 and 51.3% of his yards came after the catch. While at Alabama, he recorded 235 career catches, setting the SEC records for receiving yards in a single season (1,856) and career (3,965). His 46 career touchdowns is an SEC record and ranks No. 5 all-time in FBS history.
But I am going to make the argument that Smith has a slight edge over Jaylen Waddle not just because of his stat sheet, but because of his off-the-field characteristics. At about 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Smith has become famous for his size, or lack thereof. Over the course of his time at Alabama, Smith demonstrated a highly competitive nature. He is much stronger than he looks, illustrated by his ability to make key blocks in coverage. Dane Brugler of The Athletic writes that Smith “...grew up smaller than everyone else, which helped him develop that warrior temperament.”
In Nick Saban’s offense, Smith became well-know for his business-like personality and being one of the hardest workers on the team. He is one of only five Alabama players to be a two-time captain under Saban. Smith has turned his weakness (his body type) into an ever-present chip on his shoulder, making him fiery at times (he was ejected in October 2019 for throwing a punch) but also making him tougher.
I can see the Giants, namely Joe Judge and Daniel Jones, embracing Smith for both his on-the-field and off-the-field attributes. Just like Smith proved himself amongst an elite group of college teammate that included Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Waddle, Smith would work to prove himself in New York.
Joe DeLeone — Jaylen Waddle
What is the one piece the Giants currently lack at receiver after signing Kenny Golladay? A home run hitting, speedy receiver and kick returner. If the Giants are choosing to go receiver and must pick between Smith and Waddle, they have to focus on rounding out their receiving corps.
The age old adage when building a receiver group is to construct it like a basketball team. By adding Golladay, they have their big bodied power forward to win in contested situations. Looking at the rest of the group, they just don’t have a player like Waddle.
While his impact was brief, Waddle was an explosively fast receiver for the Crimson Tide. In his best performances he was able to break open games with a single play because of his speed and elusiveness. Placing a receiver like that into the mix can turn into a dangerous option.
Smith will likely go onto having a fantastic career, but he belongs on a team that is much thinner at receiver and needs a number one option. Waddle on the other hand only needs a few receptions a game to make huge plays and blow past defensive backs. Not to mention his rare kick returning ability that makes him a multi-faceted weapon. It has turned into a cliche for teams to draft their own Tyreek Hill, but Waddle has the talent to become that for the Giants.
Let me start by saying this — if they both remain healthy they will each have long, productive NFL careers. I think the teams that draft them will both end up happy they did. So, I don’t necessarily see a wrong answer.
That said, the answer is easy for me. If the medicals check out on his fractured ankle, I am taking Waddle. All day. Every day.
When I look at Smith I see a really good, really useful, really quarterback-friendly receiver who will help whatever offense he is in. If that’s the Giants, he will make them better and I won’t complain.
When I see Waddle, though, I see a player who can do most, if not all, of what Smith can do in the short and intermediate areas. I also see a player who can score the bejesus out of cornerbacks and defensive coordinators, and who can change games as both a home run-hitting receiver and kick returner in the blink of an eye.
The closest collegiate teammate comparison I can come up with is Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry at LSU. The Giants took Beckham 13th overall in 2014. The Miami Dolphins took Landry at No. 63.
Both turned into great players. Only one, though, scares opposing defenses and can single-handledly change games when he is, or was, at his best. Giants fans know that is Beckham.
For me, Smith is Landry. He will be really good. He will catch a lot of passes. He will probably go to some Pro Bowls.
Landry’s best, though, has never approached Beckham’s best. That’s how I see Smith and Waddle. If Waddle reaches his ceiling, because of that blinding speed and big-play ability, his best will exceed Smith’s best.
Landry averages 63.3 yards receiving per game. Beckham has averaged less than 64.7 only once, in last season’s injury shortened year when he averaged 45.6. Landry averages 11.1 yards per catch for his career. Only once, when he averaged 12.1 while playing just four games for the Giants in 2017, has Beckham averaged below 13.7. He averages 14.0 for his career.
Matt Waldman of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio, the best skill position analyst I know, grades receivers on a lengthy list of criteria. Buy his annual RSP draft guide to find out how involved his process is. Anyway, he grades Waddle at 91.6 and Smith at 85.2. Waldman calls Waddle a “franchise’ receiver and Smith simply a “starter.”
Here’s Waldman on Waddle:
The most explosive weapon in this class, Waddle could earn elite production if matched with a scheme that has the surrounding talent to force no-win decisions the way Kansas City essentially does with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Easier said than done, because Kelce and Patrick Mahomes aren’t players who are available in every draft—despite the abundance of comparisons that suggest as much.
Still, Waddle has that kind of upside for a team to mine if it can supply the scheme and surrounding talent. If he lands on a team with an elite weapon at tight end or wide receiver, Waddle has a fighting chance to help create the no-win situations that defenses face with Kansas City.
What makes Waddle so compelling is his toughness and awareness at the catch-point and his ability to deliver with excellent technique while playing at a high rate of speed. Rarely do you see receivers anywhere near his speed exhibit the footwork, awareness, hand-eye coordination, and overall physical control of their frames. Waddle turns chain-moving play designs into breakaway scores if defenders make a mistake that would normally open the field for other receivers to earn another 10-15 yards.
Although there’s often a built-in disappointment factor that accompanies smaller speedsters when they aren’t in a perfect scheme, Waddle has a more complete game that people might think when they see highlights of him running through open passing lanes thanks to the pick-your-poison dynamic of Alabama’s offensive personnel. Waddle’s technique, toughness, and versatility wrapped in his physical dimensions are also reminiscent of Isaac Bruce, a great receiver who played his career during a more physical era at 188 pounds.
Here’s Waldman on Smith:
You’re going to see concerns about Smith’s size until he proves that he can be as productive in the NFL as he was at Alabama. Keep in mind that Smith is not much smaller or slower than his teammate Waddle and there are plenty of wide receivers who played during a more punishing a difficult era of football within the same range of size as Smith, including Isaac Bruce and Marvin Harrison.
Emmanuel Sanders isn’t much bigger than Smith and that’s only because he has added weight since arriving in the NFL. Sanders and Smith have a lot of similarities. Smith is an excellent route technician for the college game who can win the ball.
The big question for Smith is whether he can become a primary weapon in an offense that needs him to dominate at the catch-point with vertical routes. If he can, his upside enters a spectrum behind Sanders’ career and into the realm of Marvin Harrison. If he can’t, Smith can still be well-matched in an offense that uses him from the slot or sends him across the width of the field the way the Bills used John Brown and Stefon Diggs in 2020.
I’m swinging for great over good. Which means Waddle over Smith.
If the choice is between Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, which wide receiver would you select for the Giants at No. 11?
This poll is closed