With the unfortunate injury to former CFL star receiver Eric Rogers, San Francisco wide receiver DeAndre Smelter will have the opportunity to show the 49ers what he can do.
DeAndre Smelter knows a thing or two about season-ending injuries, as he suffered one as a collegiate star at Georgia Tech playing receiver for the Yellow Jackets.
“He’s big. He’s physical. He can block. He can run after the catch. He’s got huge hands, size 11 hands. He’s a big, physical wide receiver.” – Trent Baalke on DeAndre Smelter
Unfortunately, with the season-ending ACL tear suffered by former CFL star receiver Eric Rogers and the offseason departure by Anquan Boldin to the Detroit Lions, the San Francisco 49ers second-year wide receiver will have his chance to shine.
Smelter, for all intents and purposes, redshirted last season recovering from his own ACL tear suffered in his final season at Georgia Tech. The 6-foot 2-inch, 225-pound receiver had shown an innate ability to go up and get the ball in traffic, play physical and play strong across the middle of the field.
Playing in a run heavy offense at Georgia Tech may pay huge dividends for Smelter in head coach Chip Kelly’s offense, which has receivers taking on blocking assignments downfield in his zone-blocking scheme.
“He’s big. He’s physical,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said of Smelter, via Doug Williams of NBC Bay Area. “He can block. He can run after the catch. He’s got huge hands, size 11 hands. He’s a physical wide receiver.”
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The 49ers have lacked a big, physical target who can beat one-on-one coverage consistently since former receiver Terrell Owens left town years ago. And while Smelter has yet to take the field in the regular season for the 49ers, he does have the physicality and size to potentially be a matchup problem lined up in the slot or on the outside.
While his route tree was not extensive at Georgia Tech, you also have to keep in mind he was playing in a run-heavy offense, so a receiver may not have had an opportunity to show their complete route-running capabilities. But the ability to block on running plays could actually give him a leg up in the competition to start at the second receiver spot or in the slot.
In this video, Smelter shows the physicality he plays with — whether in run blocking, in his ability and willingness to go over the middle and make contested catches — and also the ability to beat defenders one on one towards the outside:
In Kelly’s uptempo offense, the pace is so quick that the defense is to going to play man-to-man coverage, which will allow the head coach an opportunity to place larger, more physical right wide receivers against smaller defensive backs playing in the slot.
Kelly, in a 2014 interview (h/t Eric Branch of SF Gate.com), intimated as much, saying ” if we are going to see it a lot, how do we get guys to exploit that coverage?
“I think that’s what we do. In a league where sometimes people put smaller guys in the slot, we wanna put a bigger guy in there… if your smaller DB is going to play in the slot, he will have to line up against a 217-pound guy that can run a 4.46.”
And while Kelly will try to force mismatches inside, receivers will still need to be able to line up outside and win their matchups, whether on contested throws or creating space with crossing routes that force cornerbacks to overplay.
He then can switch to pivot routes to take advantage of the fact that they are out of position.
Smelter has all of these physical tools: the size, the ability to make the tough catches in traffic and occasionally get behind a corner in one-on-one coverage by physically winning a battle at the line of scrimmage when the corner tries to jam him.
He was able to show these skills as the No. 1 receiving option at Georgia Tech.
If he is able to duplicate that kind of play with the 49ers as the No. 2 receiver opposite Torrey Smith, or being on the field with Bruce Ellington, Smith or a third receiving threat, the 49ers offense will have the potential to exploit mismatches in the secondary.
This would provide the quarterback, whoever that may be, with open targets to choose from. And with Smelter’s huge hands, it could allow the quarterback to feel more comfortable throwing into tight windows.
49ers fans should be excited at the opportunity Smelter will get to play, as he has always seemed to take advantage of every opportunity he has been given,and risen to the challenge. In the video clip below, Smelter explains just that:
San Francisco definitely has a position of need to fill at the wide receiver position and will most assuredly provide ample opportunity for one of a host of receivers to win the job during training camp.
And, if Smelter can display the type of physical play and solid hands he showed at Georgia Tech, he just may have the upper hand in seeing significant time at wide receiver for the Niners in 2016.
Based on his previous success of making the most of his opportunities, we may be seeing a lot of Smelter this season.