Why Detroit Lions take Alabama’s DeVonta Smith in Mel Kiper Jr.’s new NFL mock draft

Detroit Free Press

Now that Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are officially gone, does anyone really think the Detroit Lions will enter the 2021 season with a top 3 receiver room of Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman and Quintez Cephus?

If you don’t, then look no further than April 29, when the Lions — led by first-year general manager Brad Holmes and first-year head coach Dan Campbell — pick seventh in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft.

By now, you’re probably familiar with the top receiver names, with three potentially worthy of a top-10 pick in LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and his Crimson Tide teammate Jaylen Waddle.

In ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.’s new mock draft released Tuesday (subscription required), he has the Lions nabbing Smith as the top target for quarterback Jared Goff.

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Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith celebrates after defeating Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Jan. 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

At 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds, Smith’s skinny body type as been debated plenty, and we wrote about Smith on Monday, but there’s no denying his electric career at Alabama, which included catching the winning touchdown in overtime of the national championship game from Tua Tagovailoa as a freshman, and dominating last season en route a second title.

“I would say this pick is likely going to the best wideout on the board, and Smith would be a tremendous choice,” Kiper wrote. “The Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t have the biggest frame, but you shouldn’t underestimate him. He is one of the best route runners I’ve scouted, and he beats any corner put in front of him. Detroit is clearly rebuilding, so I also wouldn’t be surprised if it trades down to pick up more draft capital.”

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Smith was unstoppable in 2020 as a senior, compiling 1,856 receiving yards and 25 total touchdowns (23 receiving, one rushing, one on a punt return), and had three touchdown catches in the second quarter vs. Ohio State in the national title game.

In 2019, he had 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 scores while playing in an offense with two top-15 NFL picks in receivers Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy. “No. 1 reason was to get my degree,” he said of why he returned for his senior year.

Kiper, who has Smith as his No. 3 overall prospect and the No. 1 receiver, has Chase going one spot higher at No. 6 to Philadelphia, another receiver-needy team with a young quarterback in Jalen Hurts. Chase opted out of the 2020 season, but was dominant in 2019 during LSU’s championship season.

Kiper has quarterbacks being taken with the first four picks, then has the Cincinnati Bengals taking Florida tight end Kyle Pitts — which would be big if true, because it would push receivers down the board to teams like the Eagles and Lions.

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NFL.com’s draft expert Daniel Jeremiah said recently Chase would be a “home run pick” for the Lions, while acknowledging all three wideouts would do well to fill the void left by Golladay and Jones. Jeremiah ranks Chase as the No. 2 prospect in the draft and top receiver available. He has Waddle at No. 6 and Smith at No. 8.

“I don’t think they can make a wrong pick there,” he said in early March.

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