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NFL Draft Profile: De’Veon Smith, Running Back

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The three-year starter has a steep climb to reach NFL success.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Running backs’ stock has taken a dive. It’s tough to get paid, it’s tough to endure through a long career, and there’s always a new stud around the corner.

For now, that new stud could be Michigan Wolverines running back De’Veon Smith, a projected late-round selection in the 2017 draft who might be a pleasant surprise for whoever rolls the dice on him.



That, however, is the optimistic view. Numerous scouts have taken a look at De’Veon Smith’s game, and the consensus is that he’s a hard-hitting, roster-filling player who has the toughness to belong in the league even if he doesn’t have the “juice” - the raw athleticism - to stand out and make plays.

Still, he’ll get plenty of opportunities against NFL competition. One of his strengths is terrific pass protection, and he occasionally showed a penchant for leaking out into the flat to make his presence felt in the pass game. (Not quite enough opportunities, in fact, in my opinion - as evidenced by Michigan occasionally sliding into run game predictability and De’Veon’s career 73.1% catch rate.)

Having seen him up-close, I disagree with some of the national perception that he will not be a “third-down back” - in fact, if anything, he’s a third-down back to a fault. I do think he’ll need to find ways to minimize his lack of speed and acceleration, and that’s not an easy feat.

De’Veon shows a lot of comfort and quick instincts on up-the-gut run plays, and he’s very skilled at picking his way through a crowd. And for all the talk of his poor athleticism, I think he eventually ends up being underrated in that regard. Instead, I think he hurts himself by playing hurt, by taking too many hits, and by taking too long to get up to full speed.

Michigan fans who hear the words “De’Veon Smith” and “outside zone” in the same sentence cringe immediately, but he’s shown the ability to execute it well from time to time:

I think focusing on agility, acceleration, and keeping his weight down might help him in that regard. (This is already old advice; he was 223, not 228, at the Combine and was top-five among running backs in the 60-yard shuttle, an agility and quickness drill.) At the end of the day, De’Veon is still growing as a player, and he’ll get both reps and time to flesh out his game over the next couple years.

But in the meantime, it’s all about practice, getting drafted, and being a good locker room presence who impresses the coaches. He just might surprise everybody before it’s all said and done.