Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players takes a look at second-year wideout DeAndre Smelter and whether he has a chance to make the 2017 roster.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver DeAndre Smelter has the unfortunate association with being one of former general manager Trent Baalke’s “All-ACL” team.
Selected in Round 4 back in the 2015 NFL Draft, Smelter was forced to redshirt his rookie season recovering from a collegiate ACL injury. The hope was the Niners would be getting a prolific receiver who could contribute at a first-round level once healthy.
Smelter’s numbers at Georgia Tech hinted at this possibility:
The 6-foot-2, 227-pound wideout boasted both speed and size to his game, making him an ideal candidate to impress at the NFL level.
But things didn’t go so well for Smelter once he was cleared from injury.
The 25 year old appeared in just two games for the 49ers, who sorely lacked wide receiver help, in 2016. And his stat line included just one reception for 23 yards.
With a new regime in place, Smelter’s chances take a hit to make the roster. So what can the former Georgia Tech product do to improve his chances?
Why He’ll Improve
Injury, combined with a lackluster 2016 passing offense, means we haven’t seen Smelter at his best. Nowhere close to it, really.
His size limits his overall speed ability, but there are some likable traits NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein pointed out prior to Smelter’s 2015 drafting:
"Talented after the catch. His football intelligence really stands out. Has understanding of leverage within his routes and will adjust his route to counter the defender’s actions. Able to create separation underneath by pushing cornerbacks with good route speed."
This route-running offsets the speed concerns, which is what slower receivers have to do to create separation. Smelter was able to do this with regularity at the college level.
In addition, Smelter has a significant size advantage over many of his fellow receiving counterparts. This could make him a bona fide red-zone threat, where speed isn’t as much a factor as strength and polished routes.
Why He’ll Regress
The fact Smelter hardly saw the field last season is an obvious mark against him. It wouldn’t be as much a deal if the Niners were loaded at receiver. But that wasn’t the case, and Smelter wasn’t able to contribute at a time when San Francisco was desperately hurting for production here.
In addition, Smelter isn’t a part of the new regime’s plans at the position. At least not that we know of.
Arguably only one of Baalke’s ACL picks, cornerback Keith Reaser, has panned out to any respectable amount. So it’s not likely the 49ers will continue to exercise patience with an investment that hasn’t panned out the last two years already.
Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, as Zierlein pointed out, resulted in Smelter running a limited route tree. In comparison, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense is vastly more complex.
Add that to the complications Smelter faces for competing for a roster spot.
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What to Expect in 2017
Smelter has a tough road to climb to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
His size helps, and this is probably a main reason why the Niners are at least giving him a shot. Other receivers — Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley, Trent Taylor and Aldrick Robinson — don’t have the height advantage Smelter has.
Yet all four of those receiving targets are likely shoo-ins to make the cut. That leaves Smelter, and a plethora of other depth receivers, competing for one roster spot at most.
This is exactly what Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee suggested, as he lists Smelter’s odds to make the roster as “against him.”
There hasn’t been a lot on Smelter in minicamp and OTA reports, which isn’t a good thing. In Smelter’s situation, the best thing to do would be distinguishing himself among his competition.
So far, it hasn’t happened.
There’s a chance Smelter turns things around in training camp and the preseason. But there’s a stronger chance he’s looking for another suitor in September.