DeVonta Smith capped his college career, validated his Heisman Trophy, and gave NFL general managers plenty to think about Monday with a stunning performance — 12 catches, 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half — to lead Alabama’s 52-24 win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
A senior, Smith is expected to be among the first receivers selected in the 2021 draft. He separated from coverage with ease, be it on short or deep routes, and much of his production came against another draft prospect in Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade. On his first target of the third quarter, Smith injured his right hand and did not return. By that time, however, he’d established himself as the star of the game.
Alabama running back Najee Harris, whose pro potential was profiled by NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah last summer, scored two touchdowns, his 25th and 26th of the season, while rushing for a modest 79 yards on a night when the Alabama passing attack took center stage. According to NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein, Harris significantly bolstered his draft stock by returning in 2020 for his senior season. Crimson Tide QB Mac Jones, a fourth-year junior, completed 36-of-45 passes for 464 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, overcoming an early fumble that led to a Buckeyes touchdown.
While Smith made play after play before his injury, it was a much rougher outing for several of Ohio State’s top draft prospects.
QB Justin Fields, who has yet to announce whether he will enter the 2021 NFL Draft, struggled for much of the first half. Fields completed 17-of-34 passes and looked uncomfortable against an Alabama defense that didn’t record a sack until the fourth quarter, but harassed him frequently and limited OSU running backs to the point that Fields himself was the Buckeyes’ leading rusher with 67 yards.
RB Trey Sermon, who had 524 yards in two previous postseason games, injured his shoulder on the first play from scrimmage and did not return. Wyatt Davis, among the 2021 draft’s top offensive linemen, played effectively in the first half but exited shortly before halftime with an injury, as well. Wade, who said last week that he wanted to draw Smith in coverage, struggled mightily against the Heisman winner throughout the first half. The fourth-year junior recorded a tackle for loss against Harris and broke up a would-be touchdown pass to John Metchie in the third quarter, but per Zierlein, his draft stock fell further to end what was a season of struggles.
Another of Alabama’s top draft prospects, WR Jaylen Waddle, attempted to play for the first time since fracturing a bone in his ankle on Oct. 24. With a slight limp apparent in warm-ups, he caught an early pass to convert a third down on Alabama’s opening drive, but hobbled to the sideline. He played sparingly thereafter, and his presence on the field drew criticism from several NFL players. Colts LB Darius Leonard was among them, as was Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, Ravens WR Dez Bryant and Rams CB Jalen Ramsey, who was especially outspoken.
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