clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2021 NFL Draft Prospect Shi Smith

Quickness, speed with playmaking ability

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Georgia at South Carolina Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Super Bowl LV has shown everyone in the world that no matter how many great he players you have, you are only as strong as your weakest link. This is why football is the ultimate team sport.It doesn’t matter if you have a half a billion dollar QB if your offensive line can’t block. The Chiefs model was a good one, (They were defending Super Bowl champions.) but a lack of quality depth along the offensive line is what led to their undoing.

Every year there are a handful of teams with the talent to win it all. As the year progresses teams will start to fall by the wayside because of injuries especially those who multiple injuries to one position. With the Chiefs it was offensive tackle. Teams usually only carry 3 offensive tackles on a roster along with a few player who can play a variety of positions. Invariably when a team has to start switching players at positions because of injuries then the effectiveness of the entire unit deteriorates.

The Chiefs’ weakness was at a position that was up against the Buccaneers’ strength, the outside pass rush. The previous game the Bucs had battered a befuddled Aaron Rodgers with that same pass rush. Like the Chiefs, the Packers were missing their best offensive tackle in David Bakhtiari so they were also the victim of injuries.

The point here is that the Chiefs loss in the Super Bowl was because of chance, not because a flawed team building model. Since the Chiefs were even in the Super Bowl two straight years, it’s a salute to their team building prowess. If you look at the Chiefs model you would have to say the prevailing focus is weapons with speed.

(You also have a defense that can cover and get off the field. KC was tied for 10th in points allowed in 2020 which is excellent when you have that kind of offense.)

To replicate the model of the Chiefs would be difficult because a QB like Patrick Mahomes doesn’t just grow on trees. You can develop your team speed and weapons and put together a quality offensive line with some smart drafting and a couple of well placed free agents.

The Chiefs model on offense is to overwhelm the defense with WRs with speed. Near every wideout has 4.35/40 speed, but timed speed is not always the best thing to look for. The ability to separate is also very important. You want players with loose hips and quick feet to get into and out of breaks. By doing so you gain separation on a defensive back in one on one situations.

I have already highlighted Terrace Marshall as a possible target to pair with Denzel Mims on the outside. It has been written that Jameson Crowder could be a cap casualty because of his $11.5 million contract for next season. A possible mid round draft replacement could be a player from South Carolina by the name of Shi Smith.

Smith came to South Carolina as a highly recruited player who decided to stay home in South Carolina when head coach Wil Muschamp promised him he would be featured as a receiver. Smith was a quarterback and safety until the ninth grade when he switched to wide receiver. He played 42 games in Columbia with a modicum of success catching 174 passes for 2,200 yards and 9 TDs.

During his time with the Gamecocks he had Bryan Edwards and Debo Samuel chewing up targets. In 2020 with those players gone Smith averaged over 6 receptions a game once. He also didn’t have the greatest of QBs throwing the ball to him either. Ryan Hilinski was his QB in 2019. He had a 58.1 completion percentage with 11 TDs and 5 INTs on the year. In 2020 Hilinski threw all of 6 passes as Collin Hill took over. He had a 59.1 completion percentage with 6 TDs and 6 INTs on the year.

When you watch Smith he doesn’t run the greatest routes. His WR coach at South Carolina was Bryan McClendon who played a single season in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. I don’t know anything about him other than South Carolina was his first coaching position where he coached the WRs. Before that he was a RB coach at Georgia. I’m thinking that an NFL receiver coach might be able to assist Smith in running better routes.

By now you are probably wondering why I am bothering with a smallish receiver who doesn’t run particularly good routes. The reason is based on his traits. When you watch a player you want to see traits that are useful in the NFL, and Smith has them. Because of his size Smith will be primarily a slot receiver in the NFL. You want speed, but more than that you want quickness. Smith has both with solid hands.

Here he is at the Senior Bowl working on one on one drills against DB hopefuls.

This is a very poorly run route as he almost collides with his defender. Yet he is able to push through. He shows very good ball tracking skills as he is able to get himself into position to make the catch on the overthrow. Also he does a very nice job of timing his leap, getting full extension plus the nice catch with the presence of mind to tuck the ball away quickly so that the ground does not jar the ball loose. From another angle you can see the entire play from above.

Smith gets as high as he can, jumping on an angle to make the catch. Smith did an average job of making catches at South Carolina. He had some concentration drops but also made some highlight reel plays even with his diminutive stature. He’s a tough kid who will give you his best effort on every play.

This next route is run a little better in terms of technique, but he is still rounding off the cut. Still watch the feet, super quick. If you can get those feet to work in concert with the rest of the route Smith is nearly impossible to cover in a man on man situation in a short area.

He still gets great separation from a defender who looks like he gave up on the coverage. He saw those feet working like a sushi chef with a Ginsu blade and figured he had no shot to keep up with Smith. From another couple of angles you can see the separation.

What is nice about this route is the stutter step to an all out sprint like he is going to blow by the defender then the cut across the middle where he is wide open. The cut again is a little rounded. That needs to be cleaned up, but the execution of the fake- sprint- cut was great.

Now this next clip against Richie Grant is not perfect but darn near close. Grant is a safety prospect who is under 6 feet so he is probably going to have to play in the slot a ton in the NFL. Thus this is a good matchup to have. Watch Smith’s feet as he comes at Grant then makes his cut. His feet are a blur.

When he passes by Grant then plants that left foot he is going full speed. Then with the solid plant foot he turns on a dime. This is how you explode out of breaks. Smith would get separation from any NFL slot corner with this move. Nice stuff.

Watch from the overhead. View the great separation and the quick turn to find the ball, make the two handed catch, put it away quickly, and head upfield.

This kind of slot play will be a winner in the NFL. Speed is nice, but separation in a short area is what you need. Getting open quickly is the best friend of a young QB. It gives him confidence, and you make some nice yardage on an easy play. These are not game breaking plays, but they are chain movers. They are the life blood of an offense. Once these can be established by an offense, the defense moves up which gives the offense a shot at some deep balls and splash plays.

One more time against Grant. This time he is playing in soft off coverage mode so he doesn’t get beaten awfully like the previous play. This is really a more natural coverage for Grant as I don’t know how much slot coverage he played at UCF. It gives Grant the ability to come up to make the tackle if he can get to the receiver before he gets away.

This again is not perfect execution of a dig routem but it’s pretty close. Smith comes off the line hard then makes the cut at full speed. (Tt was a little rounded.) Then he gives the QB a big target, uses good technique on the catch, and is off to the races. Notice that Smith didn’t slow up before the cut or raise his shoulders which is a dead give away to a defender of an impending cut in the route.

This next clip is from an actual game against Tennessee. This is the first play of the game as the Gamecocks fake a bubble screen to the left. The man guarding Smith actually avoids him thinking he was going to be blocked on the screen play.

There is a subtle little move as Smith slows down to find the soft spot between the safeties and the ILBs so the QB has an open window to throw through. Smith is not the most elusive open field playerm but he does a nice job of finding a seam. Then he puts on the speed to outrace half the defense to the end zone.

This next clip is a sensational contested catch. For some reason the QB had to throw the ball into obvious double coverage. Smith is covered with inside out coverage by the off corner and the safety to that side.

I mentioned earlier the QB play at South Carolina has been real shaky the last few years. How much more production might Smith have had is up for debate, but stats are not what you want to focus on with prospects. There is a huge disparity in talent levels, coaching levels, and opportunities in the NCAA. You know you will get the best coaching at Alabama, but some of these other schools are a huge question mark.

On the wider view you can see Smith completely turn around the defensive back Jalyn Armour-Davis who is in deep off coverage. Then safety Jordan Battle comes over to sandwich Smith, but somehow both defenders don’t play the ball.

There is a subtle but nice move by Smith to put protect his space by keeping Armour-Davis on his back as hgoes for the ball. This is nice concentration on the part of Smith. He is said to do poorly in contested situations (21% catch rate by PFF), but he is a slot receiver who doesn’t run many “9” routes. Plus his QB play was horrible . How many of those balls were really catchable? In this situation (a miraculous catch) if he didn’t come down with the ball they would say this was another missed contested catch. Many of those types of stats (contested catch rate, tackle breaking etc) are subjective stats and depend on whom is making the judgements.

On this next clip Smith is playing out on the hash in the slot and runs a variation of a flag route against an off defender. This is a rarity as Smith had only 6 targets of over 20 yards in all of 2020 which says more about the offense than Smith himself.

This was a very nice throw by the QB as he even led him away from the defenders to the sideline. Smith had a great 11.1 yards per catch in 2020 which was terrific when you realize that more than 13 of his receptions were on screen passes. That was because of the QB situation at S. Carolina. When you can’t throw the ball downfield you have to manufacture touches for the wideouts. Smith’s career average yards per catch is a robust 12.7 with him playing the vast majority of his plays from the slot.

To show you how much S. Carolina relied on Smith, here is a play near the goal line where the play is designed to throw a back corner fade route to him. Remember, he is a 5’ 10” slot receiver.

This pass is thrown way off target as it should be back towards the pylon. Instead it is off to the side and nearly overthrown. The QB play is so bad that Smith looks up right away to see where the ball is going to be placed. He had his man beaten to the back corner if the throw was on target, but Smith still made a nice adjustment on the ball to make the catch.

This last play is a nice adjustment by Smith on the route as he is supposed to run a type of post route. The corner is playing way inside as to not allow Smith to cross his face to the inside. At the snap the corner even pushes Smith further outside only to have Smith run around him then back inside behind the corner.

With Smith climbing into an open window for the QB to throw it’s now just a pitch and catch situation. With Smith coming around the defender the middle is wide open so it gives the QB the easiest throw to a streaking receiver. Smith does the rest as he is a tough guy in a small frame, but he makes it in without any trouble for his second TD of the day. Smith has the ability to make some splash plays with the ball in his hands.

Summary

Shi Smith is an interesting prospect who has been overlooked so far by the drafting community because of an offense that had poor QB play and a lack of top talent team wide. Smith will need to improve himself if he expects to get a starting job in the NFL. Some of the things Smith will need to work on are:

Route Running

It is not that his routes are terrible, but a slot receiver needs to get in then out of breaks explosively to gain separation. He needs to work on dropping his hips, sticking his foot in the ground at full speed, then bursting out of the break. If he can do that he will be a successful slot receiver and make his OC happy.

Concentration

It is not uncommon for young receivers to have concentration drops as they look up to the defense before they catch the ball. Smith has good hands and uses the proper technique to catch the ball, but he had a 9.5% drop rate in 2020 which is not horrible but still way too high. Slot receivers many times have the highest drop rates because they are usually catching the ball in congested areas of the field. They look up because they don’t want to get bulldozed by an ILB to make his personal highlight film.

Blocking

Many big time receivers in college don’t always block well, but you have to be at least serviceable in blocking especially as a slot receiver who is usually close to the linemen. Sometimes a wham block is available. A nice get your body on a man block is all that is needed in most situations.

Weight Training

Smith is not really skinny like some other players, but if you are going to work inside you need some meat on your bones to stand up to the rigors of the NFL. He needs to add 10-12 lbs of muscle to become a little more sturdy against some of the behemoths he will be playing against. It will also help him break more tackles and extend his runs after the catch.

I like the skill set Shi Smith brings to the game, but like all drafted players his ability to develop his game will be the deciding factor in either his success or failure to become a player in the NFL. Smith could be a valuable piece of an offensive puzzle the Jets are trying to put together.

I have no idea how the NFL scouts view Smith as a prospect, but slot receivers are usually not seen as day one or early day two type players. I personally have an early 4th round grade on Smith. I assume he will be taken somewhere in the middle to late 4th round but that could change after all the pro days are finished. Smith has a chance to be a quality player for an NFL franchise if he puts in the work and gets good coaching.

That’s what I think.

What do you think?