Alabama receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle have drawn NFL comparisons from league sources that sound absurd but are not exaggerations.
Three names scouts have mentioned to the Daily News when discussing Smith’s skill set: Chad Johnson, Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice.
Great hands. Crisp route running. A player who glides across the field and plays even faster than he sprints.
Two names scouts used to describe Waddle’s elite traits: Tyreek Hill and Santonio Holmes.
League sources all describe his top trait with the same adjective: “Explosive.”
Waddle is capable of scoring “every time he touches the ball,” one NFC executive said. He’s versatile, athletic and creative with the ball in his hands.
Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, was teammates in 2017 as a freshman with future first-round ‘Bama wideouts Calvin Ridley (26th, 2018), Henry Ruggs III (12th, 2020) and Jerry Jeudy (15th, 2020). And guess what?
“He’s the best of all of them,” an AFC exec said.
Both Alabama receivers would make the Giants’ offense better. Both would add blazing speed and an extra dimension to Daniel Jones’ arsenal.
Both are believed to be among the Giants’ top options at their No. 11 pick, assuming either player makes it out of the top 10.
Smith (6-0, 166 pounds) and Waddle (5-9, 180) have detractors due to their lack of size. Some think Smith is too skinny, too light.
“I’ve seen him line up as the boundary ‘X’ receiver and get shoved out of bounds when the ball is snapped,” one evaluator said.
But Giants GM Dave Gettleman said last week that neither receiver’s size would be a deterrent because “their college film suggests they’re very good players.” Coach Joe Judge, a former Alabama assistant, knows Nick Saban’s program as well as anyone.
And several coaches, GMs and scouts feel that Smith “plays a lot bigger” than his physique suggests. He catches the ball in traffic, and he catches it with his hands.
Smith and Waddle also get rave reviews for their high character and work ethic. Look no further than Smith’s Heisman acceptance speech in January:
“To all the young kids out there that’s not the biggest, not the strong, just keep pushing,” said Smith. “‘Cause I’m not the biggest. I’ve been doubted a lot just because of my size, and really it just comes down to [this]: if you put your mind to it, you can do it. No job is too big.”
Waddle, 22, blew teams away with his toughness when he returned to play in the national championship game on a supposedly season-ending broken right ankle (Oct. 24). Waddle made three catches for 34 yards.
Former Giants receiver Russell Shepard, once the No. 1 high school recruit in the country, told the News that Waddle’s national title guts proved he is the “ultimate teammate.”
“No first-round pick would have played in that national championship game with an ankle injury like that if he wasn’t a great teammate,” said Shepard, 30, owner of Shep Boys Waste Management LLC.
If there is any knock on Waddle it’s that he sometimes cradles the ball with his body when he catches it compared to Smith, who snatches it out of the air with his mitts. But no one will care how Waddle secured the ball on a bubble screen that he takes 75 yards to the house.
He owns three of the top-five longest TD catches in Alabama history. He had 947 return yards and three return TDs in 2 ½ college seasons.
“I just think I’m different,” Waddle told NFL Network in March. “I think you can put me anywhere: special teams, backfield, outside, inside, and if there’s a play to be made, I believe I can make it … I’m much more than just a receiver. I’m a playmaker. I can make plays for any team and go well in any offense.”
Smith’s incredible senior season with Waddle sidelined, meanwhile, catapulted his draft stock. He was already an electric prospect who’d caught the famous walk-off 41-yard OT TD pass from Tua Tagovailoa in the 2017 national title game to beat Georgia.
But in 2019 as a junior, Smith caught 68 passes for 1,256 yards and 14 TDs. And in 2020, he erupted for an insane 117 catches, 1,856 yards and 23 TD catches. Plus he returned some punts and kicks and played gunner all four years under Saban.
Smith is Alabama’s all-time leader in catches (235), receiving yards (3,965) and receiving TDs (46). He was the first wide receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the Heisman.
Their career averages are both impressive: Waddle’s 87.1 total yards and 0.58 touchdowns in 34 games; Smith’s 90.6 total yards and 1.02 TDs — an absurd 48 total TDs in 47 games.
If the Giants had to pick Smith or Waddle, which would they prefer? No one knows. But they likely won’t have to make that choice.
It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins reunite Smith or Waddle with Tagovailoa, considering both receivers said this offseason that they preferred Mac Jones to Tua at ‘Bama.
The Giants would benefit from either player, though. If Smith or Waddle falls into their laps, Jones’ offense just might take the next step after all in 2021.