When 49ers general manager Trent Baalke drafted DeAndre Smelter in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, he was effusive about the Georgia Tech receiver’s physical tools and big-play abilities.
In two seasons at Tech in a run-first offense, Smelter’s receiving stats weren’t eye-popping. Over 22 games Smelter had just 56 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns. But his average of 18.9-yards per reception indicated what Smelter – at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds – could do with the football in his hands.
And the hands were one thing that caught Baalke’s attention while scouting him. His size 11 hands were the largest in the 2015 draft.
“He’s big. He’s physical,” said Baalke, when talking about Smelter. “He can block. He can run after the catch. He’s got huge hands, size 11 hands. He’s a physical wide receiver.”
But Smelter suffered a torn ACL in his final year at Georgia Tech, and he dropped to the fourth round.
Now, after sitting out his rookie season, some believe Smelter could be on the verge of a terrific season in Chip Kelly’s spread offense.
With veteran Anquan Boldin now gone, Torrey Smith is the No. 1 wideout, with Bruce Ellington the early candidate to become the top slot receiver. Smelter will be in a battle with Quinton Patton, former CFL standout Eric Rogers, rookie Aaron Burbridge, DeAndrew White, veteran Jerome Simpson and undrafted rookies Dres Anderson, Devon Cajuste and Bryce Treggs to earn a roster spot and playing time.
He was set back a bit in the spring when a hamstring strain slowed his progress. As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted at the time, that wasn’t good for a player who didn’t get any game action in 2015.
“He needs a lot of practice repetitions, which he simply did not get this spring,” Barrows wrote.
Even in minicamp, Smelter still was getting a lot of attention from trainers, Barrows reported, and didn’t seem to be going full speed most of the time. But Kelly told the media it was just a “nagging” thing and wasn’t serious.
“I wouldn’t call it an injury,” Kelly said.
If Smelter is healthy once training camp begins, however, he could be a great fit for the Kelly offense. Kelly intends to run the ball, which means wideouts will have to block, and Smelter showed in college he could do that well. San Monson of Pro Football Focus, after watching video of Smelter at Georgia Tech, wrote, “I could watch DeAndre Smelter all day. Crushes dudes on crack blocks.”
And, like Boldin, Smelter could be a big-bodied possession receiver.
Bobby Horne, who writes about the team for the website Niner Noise, believes Smelter could emerge as a star in 2016 on a team that needs stars.
“With the multiple receiver sets Kelly utilizes, Smelter will see the field and will see it often, proving himself to possibly become the 49ers’ best weapon,” he wrote this week.
Kelly and the rest of the 49ers will soon find out, when training camp opens later this month.