Stretching the field vertically. In the NFL, that's commonly known by the phrase "going deep"; and with their 3rd Round selection of University of Central Florida wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith in the recently-completed 2018 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints appear to have chosen a player who eventually become the designated "big play"maker for the team's high-powered passing attack.
The 22-year old Delray Beach Florida native and newest Saints rookie draft pick at the wide receiver position, looks and runs like a #1 WR at the next level in the NFL. Meaning that with his size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and length, he would make quite the welcome addition to any receiving corps.
But the Saints already have a designated #`1 WR in 3rd year veteran Michael Thomas; meaning that Smith was drafted by New Orleans for another reason; and given Smith's notable ability for "going deep" and making big plays while he played for the Golden Knights, the Saints obviously see that same attribute as something they feel Smith can bring to their offense.
Drew Brees excels throwing the ball downfield. Tre'Quan Smith excels catching the ball downfield. Good fit. pic.twitter.com/cM3NpLjbxr
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 30, 2018
UCF used Smith as part of their "RPO" offense, which in football terminology means “run-pass option.” The definition of a run-pass option is when the quarterback makes a decision to either run or throw in a play designed with options for both.
But Smith is more of a seam-runner, and certainly in due time could become the vertical threat whom the Saints eventually could look to plug into that role; which is currently occupied by #2 WR Ted Ginn, Jr. — who just turned age 33 a few weeks ago.
Smith has great feet and is quick with the ball in his hands, but he's also a player that can stretch the field and create throwing lanes for the quarterback. Additionally, he is very athletic and has the ability to catch balls thrown outside his frame.
Smith’s best physical trait are his ridiculously long arms — they're 34 1/2 inches to be exact — which give him a big-time catch radius. He’s able to fight for jump balls against similarly tall DB's, and he's capable of making some spectacular catches downfield and in traffic, with a pair of impressively strong hands.
And perhaps best of all: Smith can also "high-point" the football with his elite-caliber leaping capability; and in the redzone could became quite the big-time play maker.
That's something that Smith himself envisions, when he spoke via teleconference with the local Saints media, after his selection.
"They want to throw the ball. I know Drew Brees is a great quarterback, terrific quarterback. They want to get the ball downfield and score touchdowns. They want to get the ball in play-makers hands. And my job is to come in there and do what is best for the team. I want to come there and build a great relationship with Drew Brees, build a connection, that receiver-quarterback connection.”
One of the reasons that he wasn't drafted higher than where the Saints were able to grab him with the 91st overall pick in Round 3, is because Smith is still actually learning HOW to play the WR position, and scouts feel that he still has some growing to do in other areas such as hand-eye coordination and route-running.
Having little experience with the sport, Smith was named to the all-state team during his first full season playing football at Village Academy High School in Palm Beach County — which actually was his junior year of high school after he was finally convinced to play the sport. Basketball was always Smith's first choice, so it took some persuading from coaches and mentors to even play football to begin with.
He then collected 1,086 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions during his high school senior season in 2013, with two being returned for touchdowns, as a receiver and defensive back.
But he wasn't highly recruited, and eventually chose to head north from South Florida to Orlando.
Smith redshirted his freshman year in 2014, as UCF won a share of the AAC regular season title that season "on the back" of an impressive WR corps that included current Baltimore Ravens WR Breshad Perriman.
The following season in 2015, Smith was actually the lone "bright spot" for an otherwise godawful Golden Knights team that went 0-12. He was named 2015 AAC Rookie of the Year despite being on a winless team, with 52 catches for 724 yards and 4 TD's.
But it was his sophomore season in 2016, where his chance to become a true star in the sport of football really began; thanks to the hiring of then new and current UCF head coach Scott Frost.
Smith flourished in Frost’s offense, even despite the "growing pains" of then-freshman and current QB McKenzie Milton. His numbers improved only moderately from 2015, but the influx of additional recruits on the offensive side of the ball that year likely diminished those statistics.
Finally last season in 2017, Smith "broke out", as he emerged as Milton’s favorite target, tallying 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 59 total receptions last year, which is pretty remarkable since it means that he averaged a ridiculous 19.8 yards per catch.
Those numbers led the team in catches, yards and TDs, and was named to the All-AAC 1st Team.
The Golden Knights finished the season with an undefeated record (13-0), but weren't chosen to compete in the College Football Playoffs.
But they were extended an invitation to the Peach Bowl, where Smith really opened eyes and LITERALLY caught nearly everything thrown in his direction in the final quarter.
Smith chose to leave UCF early and declared for the 2018 NFL Draft, and at the Scouting Combine his 40-yard dash time, vertical jump and broad jump all measured better than current NFL stars such as Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro WR Antonio Brown.
New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill says that while Smith ran plenty of routes from the outside, but UCF wasn’t afraid to move him around, which is something he’ll likely do in the New Orleans offense. Underhill notes that he’ll need to prove that he can go over the middle more often, but he doesn't expect that it should be an issue considering Smith's well-publicized receiving skills.
Another key factor in the Saints' selection of Smith are his elite blocking skills.
In fact, an anonymous scout told Rotoworld that Smith "may have" been the best blocking wide receiver he saw in the entire 2018 draft class. Underhill says that blocking is an essential element in the New Orleans offense, considering how often the team likes to run the ball and throw screen passes.
Clearly that's an area where Smith excels, and though current #4 WR Brandon Coleman has been the Saints primary run blocking receiver previously, Smith could very well assume that role designation as well.
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) November 14, 2017
Umderhill says that Smith looks like he’s a "fit" in the Saints offense, but the question is if he can steal snaps from one of the team’s other receivers, as a rookie. If Smith is able to get up to speed quickly, there's a scenario where he could push to eat into their snaps.
Underhill adds that WR and recent free agent signee Cam Meredith will need to prove that he’s healthy after recovering from a severe knee injury suffered when he played for the Chicago Bears; and while the 33-year old Ginn had a good season, there’s also a scenario where Smith could eat into Ginn's role depending on the situation(s).
A lot of Smith's eventual role for the Saints in his rookie year will be further improving the areas in which he's considered to be deficient.
He struggled to separate at times from press coverage at UCF, and he'll need to develop his skills in the short passing game to become a more versatile and well-rounded player. And perhaps most importantly of all: catching the football cleanly.
If there's any one area where Smith has struggled, it's with dropped passes. There have been times where Smith was WIDE OPEN, but failed to "look the ball" cleanly into his hands to make the reception. That's an issue where he'll have to get more consistent in, going forward.
But make no mistake about it: Smith's potential to be a good and possibly even a great WR at the next level, is completely "off the charts".
In the upcoming months ahead, it will be interesting to watch Smith's progress as he gets acclimated to the professional game; and working with Saints WR coach Curtis "CJ" Johnson will no doubt prove to be very beneficial to his development.