The 2021 NFL Draft is just around the corner and the Hawkeyes are looking to make it 43 consecutive years with at least one player drafted. As we approach draft day, we’re profiling several former Hawkeyes who have a chance to be drafted, whether that be in the first round or the last. Check back daily for new profiles and be sure to follow along on draft day as we break down the landing spots for each Hawkeye selected in this year’s draft.
While Iowa has had no difficulty sending players to the league in recent years, the Hawkeyes have struggled to produce NFL prospects at the wide receiver position. The last Hawkeye receiver selected in the NFL draft came when Marvin McNutt was taken in the 6th round in 2012, while the last time a wide receiver who finished his career at Iowa made a catch in the NFL came when the now 45-year old Tim Dwight caught a pass in 2007 To say the Hawkeye wideouts have had difficulty finding work in the league would be extremely generous, but Iowa does have a few draft prospects this year who have a chance to confound these low expectations.
Position: Wide Receiver
Wt: 218 lbs.
Hometown: Lake Cormorant, MS
Projection: 7th Round/Undrafted
Brandon Smith was a productive player in his career in the black and gold. A three-year starter at wide receiver, Smith hauled in 91 catches for 1041 yards and nine touchdowns. While Smith missed nearly half of his junior season to injury in 2019, this year was arguably his most impressive campaign, as the big-bodied receiver posted career highs of 439 yards and five touchdowns in only eight games. His most outstanding game actually came during the contest in which he was injured (a home tilt against Purdue in 2019) in which he caught nine passes for 106 yards despite failing to finish the game.
That Smith’s height was officially recorded at 6’1” may surprise some fans, not only because the university frequently listed him at 6’3”, but because he seemed to play much bigger than that. Smith is a physical receiver who was a tenacious blocker in the run game and has consistently shown that he can fight through contact to catch the ball.
Smith is a legitimate weapon on jump balls. The former high school high jump champion can win at the point of attack with best of them, making him the kind of legitimate red zone weapon Iowa rarely sees from its wide receiver position.
Smith has also improved greatly over the course of his career when it comes to body control and consistency catching the ball. Smith’s length gives him a large catch radius, while his ability to adjust to the pass gives him a shot to make a catch even when the ball is not perfectly thrown.
Furthermore, Smith’s touchdown catch against Penn State in 2019, the play that will inarguably go down as the most iconic of his career, paints the picture of a receiver with excellent hands, impeccable concentration and body control, and an ability to play through defenders that could give him a shot at the next level.
However, Smith is not without his limitations as prospect. Unlike his teammate Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Smith isn’t going to blow scouts away with either his straight-line speed or his agility, and he could struggle to gain separation from NFL defenders. Furthermore, Smith’s collegiate production is much lower than what you typically expect to see from an NFL prospect. Smith produced only one 100-yard game in his four years at Iowa, and there were far too many contests in which he was a virtual non-factor in the passing game. While Smith’s middling numbers might be blamed somewhat on injuries, a run-heavy offense, and an inconsistent first year starter at quarterback in 2020, NFL teams may hesitate to pull the trigger on Smith in the later rounds if they view him as a one-dimensional jump ball specialist who may struggle to make contributions in other elements of the passing game.
What Do the Scouts Have to Say?
Here is Smith’s draft analysis courtesy of NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein:
“Body beautiful” wide receiver prospect who could struggle under the weight of physical coverage that is tougher and faster than he is. Smith doesn’t have the burst, speed or route acumen to consistently create passing windows for his quarterback, but when the ball goes up near the end zone, he plays with good body control and ball skills to haul in the jump balls. Smith lacks the ability to consistently threaten on any of the three levels of the field and is likely to face an uphill battle to make a roster.
Named to Iowa’s leadership group.
Physical specimen with muscular, well-defined frame.
Former high jumper with the springs to elevate.
Comfortable and confident on 50-50 balls.
Consistent timing up to the high-point.
Snaps head quickly around to find football from his breakpoint.
Has potential for route improvement with his athletic talent.
Below-average impact in his production.
Not much turnover in feet when getting vertical.
Runs routes like a step-counter.
Telegraphs route breaks with prolonged gear-down.
Routes will be easy for NFL cornerbacks to phase.
Allows physical coverage to overtake him.
Focus drops on throws underneath.
Need to see more blocking commitment for a player his size.
This analysis mostly hits the nail on the head, though I might push back on a few of the weaknesses Zierlein identifies. The scouting report seems too dismissive of Smith’s physicality (he has consistently been the best run blocker among Iowa’s wide receivers during his time in the program), and while drops in the short passing game were a problem for Smith early on, he made meaningful improvements in that area during his time on campus.
Smith is more likely than not to go undrafted this weekend, as his one-dimensionality and lack of college production could hamper him in what is widely considered to be an extremely deep draft class at his position. However, Smith is also the kind of prospect who could inspire a team that falls a love with his redzone potential to take a filer in the later rounds in hopes that they can develop him into a consistent possession receiver. Regardless of whether Smith is drafted, he should have a real shot to compete for a spot on an NFL roster and possibly break the catchless streak that has plagued Iowa’s wide receivers for over a decade.