After four extremely solid seasons as a key cog in Michigan’s offense, running back De’Veon Smith heads into the NFL Draft looking to bring his nose for the end zone to the pros.
Smith, a powerful, between-the-tackles rusher, carried 495 times for 2,235 yards over his career in Ann Arbor, scoring 22 touchdowns, including 10 his senior year.
Who is De’Veon Smith? 5 things to know
1. In going to Michigan, he spurned his hometown team
Coming out of Howland High School in Warren, Ohio, Smith was a coveted prospect. 247Sports ranked him as the No. 209 player and No. 16 running back in his recruiting class, and he had offers from numerous schools, especially in the Big Ten.
Among the top-flight programs to offer Smith was Ohio State, the dominant university in his home state. But the running back spurned the Buckeyes, instead committing to Brady Hoke and the Wolverines.
Smith was one of several Ohioans in Michigan’s 2013 recruiting class. Others included Taco Charlton and Jake Butt, who now join Smith as 2017 draft hopefuls.
2. Smith led the Wolverines in rushing for three straight seasons
Smith attended Michigan at a fairly tumultuous time for the program. In his four years, the Wolverines had two head coaches, three athletic directors and three starting quarterbacks.
But over Smith’s final three seasons he provided a steady, reliable presence, giving Michigan great stability in the backfield. In 2014, with Devin Gardner as his quarterback, he led the Wolverines with 519 rushing yards. In 2015, with Jake Rudock as his quarterback, he led the Wolverines with 753 rushing yards. And in 2015, with Wilton Speight as his quarterback, he led the Wolverines with 846 rushing yards.
The one constant of Michigan football in recent years: De’Veon Smith as leading rusher.
Quietly, Smith worked his way up the list of Michigan greats. He finished his career ranked 20th in program history in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
3. He’s also an excellent pass-catcher
In his final two seasons at Michigan, Smith emerged as a productive receiver out of the backfield, catching a total of 35 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown.
In 2016, Smith caught at least two passes in six different games and tallied three receptions apiece in a key Big Ten win over Penn State and in Michigan’s bowl loss to Florida State.
Smith’s versatility should make him more appealing to NFL teams.
4. Top speed prevents Smith from ranking among the top backs in this draft class
At 5 feet 11 inches and 223 pounds, speed has never been Smith’s strength. He’ll find holes and break tackles, but he won’t necessarily break away from defenders.
Here’s what NFL.com Lance Zierlein wrote in the “weaknesses” section of Smith’s scouting report:
Lacks pro acceleration needed to escape NFL linebackers to the edge. Play speed is below average. Sluggish to and through the line of scrimmage. Allows tacklers time to disengage and react to the run. Poses very little threat to take runs to the house. Hard-hat runner who lacks the wiggle or speed to create for himself. Needs it blocked up on first level to have an impact. Below average eluding tacklers in the hole.
In the NFL, Smith will likely be called on mostly in short yardage situations.
5. He has very high expectations for himself
Smith is expected to be a late-round pick at best, but that doesn’t mean he has low expectations for his NFL career.
Back in January, at the Senior Bowl, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated quoted a smiling Smith explaining his outlook heading into the draft.
“This process is still going until the day I get that Hall of Fame jacket,” Smith said. “Nothing is finished. You feel me?”
No one can say Smith lacks for confidence.