DeVonta Smith runs after the catch against Florida in the SEC Championship

Why DeVonta Smith Deserves to Win the Heisman

  • Alabama Crimson Tide
  • Alabama Football
  • College Football
  • College Football Playoff
  • DeVonta Smith
  • Heisman
  • Heisman Trophy
By Mitchell Wolfe December 24, 2020 0 Comment
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After Alabama’s 52 – 46 victory over Florida in the SEC Championship, DeVonta Smith solidified his case for the Heisman Trophy. Smith continued his remarkable 2020 season against the Gators, recording 15 catches, 184 yards, and 2 touchdowns. In college football’s strangest season in living memory, it would only be fitting that Smith bucks a thirty-year trend. If he were to win, Smith would become the first non-quarterback to win the Heisman since 2015 (Derrick Henry). Additionally, he would be the 4th non-QB to win since 2000 (Reggie Bush, Mark Ingram, and Henry). Finally, he would become the first wide receiver to win the award since 1991 (Desmond Howard).

Ballots for the Heisman were due Monday, December 21st. With Smith’s excellent performance fresh in their minds, voters should consider the Crimson Tide’s most dangerous weapon for college football’s highest honor.

Background

DeVonta Smith attended Amite High School in Amite, Louisiana. He was a 4-star recruit in the Class of 2017, ranked as the #1 prospect in Louisiana, the #3 WR in the country, and the #29 overall recruit in the nation, according to 247sports. Despite being listed at only 160 pounds in high school, Smith received scholarship offers from nearly every major program west of the Rocky Mountains (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Florida State, Notre Dame, and even USC). Smith was part of Alabama’s 2017 class, ranked #1 in the country, and included first-round picks Tua Tagovailoa, Henry Ruggs III, Jedrick Wills, and Jerry Jeudy.

Smith’s career at Alabama is among the greatest in college football history. In 2017, Smith only played in 8 games and recorded 8 receptions (1 in every game he played), 130 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Despite his limited playing time, he caught two game-winning TDs, one versus Mississippi State and of course, the other in the national championship against Georgia.

In 2018, he played 13 games and recorded 42 catches, 693 yards, 6 TDs, with only 3 games over 80 yards. But in 2019, in 13 games, Smith elevated his game as part of arguably the greatest receiving corps in college football history (Ruggs, Jeudy, Smith, and Jaylen Waddle), recording 68 catches, 1256 yards, and 14 TDs. Smith had 2 games with over 200 receiving yards, including his 11 catches, 274 yards, and 5 TDs vs Ole Miss.

DeVonta Smith’s Legendary 2020

Smith continued to improve his game and statistics in 2020, despite the exodus of talent from the Crimson Tide. In 11 games, he recorded 98 catches, 1511 yards, and 17 receiving TDs. He also has 3 rushes for 11 yards and 1 TD, along with 7 punt returns for 179 yards and 1 TD, which he scored last week:

So far, DeVonta Smith has already surpassed his numbers from last season in two fewer games. Before the Arkansas game, he had 4 straight games with at least 7 catches, 144 yards, and 2 TDs. He currently leads the NCAA in receiving yards and TDs. Furthermore, he only needs 13 receptions to finish with the most career catches at Alabama (Amari Cooper: 228, Smith: 216). He also only needs 27 yards for the yardage record (Cooper: 3463, Smith: 3436). His 40 career receiving touchdowns surpassed Cooper’s career record of 31 long ago.

Does DeVonta Smith have a legitimate case?

As previously mentioned, Smith would be the first non-QB to win since 2015 and the first WR since 1991. In the 21st century, only two other wide receivers came close to winning the Heisman. Amari Cooper finished 3rd in 2014 and Larry Fitzgerald finished 2nd in 2003. Let’s look at each of their cases with their stats at the time of the ceremony:

Amari Cooper (2014):

13 games, 115 catches, 1656 yards, 14 TDs; 3 200-yard games, 7 over 100 yards, 4 games with 2+ TDs; led the country in receptions, 2nd in yards, t-3rd in receiving TDs.

Cooper went to New York in 2014 after Alabama defeated Missouri in the SEC Championship. Cooper and the Crimson Tide entered the inaugural College Football Playoff at 12-1. Cooper’s receiving yards accounted for more than half of Alabama’s receiving yards as a team. Marcus Mariota would go on to win the Heisman that year, possibly as somewhat of a career achievement award. With that being said, Mariota received over 90% of the possible points, the 2nd highest margin in history at that time, behind only Troy Smith in 2006. Reggie Bush held the record before his Heisman was vacated; Joe Burrow broke the record last year, capturing 93.8% of the points. Cooper finished 3rd behind Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Cooper captured the most 3rd place votes but also captured more first-place votes than Gordon.

Larry Fitzgerald (2003):

12 games, 87 catches, 1597 yards, 22 TDs; scored at least 1 TD in every game, 2 200 yard games, 10 games over 100 yards; led NCAA in TDs and receiving yards

On only 87 catches, Fitzgerald led the NCAA in receiving touchdowns and receiving yards, displaying incredible consistency throughout the season. Fitzgerald accounted for nearly half the team’s receiving yards and 22 of their 50 offensive touchdowns. Ultimately, Jason White defeated Fitzgerald to take home the trophy. But White only captured 53.54% of the votes and defeated Fitzgerald by 128 points. Fitzgerald most likely suffered from playing for a smaller team in a smaller conference, but he certainly went on to bigger and better things in the NFL.

Desmond Howard (1991):

62 catches, 985 yards, 19 TDs; 13 rushes, 180 yards, 2 TDs; 15 kick returns, 412 yards, 1 TD, 20 punt returns, 282 yards, 1 TD. Led the country in receiving TDs and overall TDs; led the Big 10 in receptions and receiving yards.

Howard obviously remains iconic for his Heisman pose after scoring a punt return touchdown against Ohio State. His celebration accurately presaged his triumph over Casey Weldon, quarterback from Florida State, and Ty Detmer from Brigham Young. While Howard’s raw statistics do not seem that impressive when compared to Cooper or Fitzgerald, one must consider the time in which Howard played. Michigan averaged 45 rushing attempts and 231 yards per game in 1991. Nevertheless, Howard scored 19 of Michigan’s 25 passing touchdowns; no other receiver on the team scored more than 2.

DeVonta Smith: Heisman Winner?

Smith is uniquely positioned relative to other Heisman candidates. He benefits from the lack of an elite quarterback in the race, which would ostensibly win the award by default. At different points in the season, Trevor Lawrence, Kyle Trask, and Mac Jones all had very strong resumes for the Heisman. Lawrence is the best player/prospect, Trask has the best statistics, and Jones has the best record/team, which could theoretically divide the voters.

Additionally, Smith’s teammate Najee Harris is having a very fine season (214 carries, 1262 yards, 24 TDs, 32 receptions, 316 receiving yards, 3 TDs). Harris also dominated Florida in the SEC Championship, to the tune of 31 carries, 178 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns, 5 receptions, 67 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns. However, Smith’s ability to take over games and routinely make highlight catches create a very strong case.

Despite Smith’s lack of size and supposed lack of elite speed or athleticism, he consistently beats DBs to makes incredible catches in all areas of the field.

In short, DeVonta Smith deserves to win the Heisman. No quarterback was able to separate himself from the pack. Smith consistently dominated opponents throughout the season. Even with his teammate Najee Harris scoring 5 touchdowns on nearly 250 scrimmage yards, Smith provided his Heisman moment against Florida.

No matter what Florida did, they could not stop Smith. This theme ran through Alabama’s entire season. The Heisman Trophy is meant to honor the most outstanding player in college football. There has been no more outstanding player than DeVonta Smith this season.

 

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I cover and write about the NFL, the NFL Draft, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I am originally from Hershey, PA and was raised a Pittsburgh sports fan. I went to Boston College for undergrad and am currently finishing a Master's degree in Sports Business at Temple University, concentrating in Sport Analytics.

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