Bill O’Brien isn’t shy about who he wants adjacent DeAndre Hopkins. The mold of his Z (secondary) receiver goes as follows: tall, fast, and physical. Will Fuller V fit this role, and Demaryius Thomas did so to a certain extent. Unfortunately, the Texans will not have the luxury of playing either receiver due to season-ending tendon tears. They will now depend upon UDFA rookie Vyncint Smith out of Limestone College, who happens to fit the mold of an O’Brien secondary receiver.
During the last two seasons, the mold of a Z receiver for O’Brian physically goes as follows.
|Broad Jump||125.75″||Broad Jump||130″|
|Vertical Leap||37.87″||Vertical Leap||39.5″|
On the left is the average of either pro day or combine statistics of every Z receiver on the Texans opening day roster over the past two years, while the right is Smith’s measurables compared. These measurables test a players speed (40), height, explosiveness (broad jump), and leaping ability (vertical).
It is clear that Smith is a favorable player concerning measurables, and has seen meaningful snaps due to this. Smiths role is very similar to Will Fuller V’s. That role is to stretch the field vertically to take advantage of Watson’s arm and to open up the middle of the field.
Coming from a D-II school, Smith has had to practice hard and continually improve his game to get acclimated to the intricacies and speed of the NFL. Smith has done just that, as he talked about his work ethic to the media on Wednesday, saying, “I take practice seriously — I like to practice how I play, so things sort of happen that that helps.”
At Limestone, Smith was relied on as the big play receiver due to his tall stature and blazing speed. Notice the play below, a game from his senior year.
The speed is apparent — he has the cornerback beat by a few steps. It’s also important to note that the quarterback underthrew the ball. Luckily for the quarterback, Smith has good ball concentration and a sense to know when he is open. Watch as Smith has his eyes on the ball once he beats his defender. This lets him use his separation and stature to his advantage.
That speed has translated well to the NFL. In the pre-season and regular season alone Smith averaged 26.16 yards per reception.
The big plays are where I see a lot of similarities between Smith and Fuller V. Watch how he forcefully glides past the cornerback below, taking long strides and forcing proper leverage by using his 6’3 frame. He then shows focus in reeling the ball into his hands. The speed and ‘bread basket’ catching remind me of Fuller V’s game.
I know this next play is an interception directed towards Smith, but its another good example of what his speed does to an offense.
Notice how open Hopkins is in the middle of the field. This is because Vyncint can lure multiple defensive backs into the end zone. However, the ball shouldn’t have been passed to him even though he beat his man. The defense was in double coverage, and Watson underthrew the ball. Even though the pass was an underthrow, Smith’s speed is shown as a weapon that can stretch defenses and get players open.
To be clear, Smith was undrafted for a reason. His route running is the furthest thing from being called ‘quick,’ and he won’t wow you with a one-handed catch. He’s not going to own the short area like Hopkins, Fuller V, and Thomas. But, he will open up the offense vertically — just like Will Fuller V before him.
Judging by Smith’s short amount of clips, he doesn’t just tend to win athletically. He also has shown an ever-increasing football intelligence. Watch how he immediately looks back to Watson after he notices that he is in the soft spot of cover 4 zone coverage – a testament to film review sessions and constant practice.
The near game-winning touchdown versus the Eagles was a glimmer of Smith’s field-stretching abilities that fans will see for the next two games (at least).
Once again, Smith has the pure speed to get past his defender and still tracks the ball with his eyes once he knows he’s open. Then he follows the ball until it reaches his hands.
Smith has only caught six passes in the NFL; meaning the verdict is still very much out. But, we do know one thing; Vyncint Smith is speedy and built to stretch the field. That field-stretching ability has been sorely missed since Will Fuller V’s season-ending injury. But Smith has the potential for Smith to bring it back.