WR Smith embracing the ‘sleeper’ role

WR Devin Smith has had a grueling season that extends by one last all-star game on Saturday, but he has shown he belong in the first-round draft conversation.

MOBILE, Ala. — After an exhausting 15-game college football season culminated with the ultimate reward of a national championship, Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith smiled when asked about spending time in Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl.

The Buckeyes knocked off the Crimson Tide in the National Championship playoff semifinals, so Smith anticipated a less-than-enthusiastic reception from Alabama fans during his visit.

“Yeah, we’re getting a lot of love here, too, a little bit,” Smith said. “It’s kind of unique to be out here, being in Alabama and seeing all the fans out here that are proud but at the same time mad.”

While the Buckeyes celebrate their national title with a public ceremony at Ohio Stadium Saturday, Smith will be competing for the North squad against the South in the Senior Bowl. Sure, he wishes he had more time to enjoy the championship accomplishment with his college teammates, but he knew it was time to concentrate on the business of attracting interest from NFL teams.

“For me, it was more of this is a one-time opportunity that you can do,” he said. “I’ll never get this opportunity ever again, and being out here with my cousin (Doran Grant), it makes it that much better.”

So there continues to be no rest for the weary. After Saturday’s game, he’ll fly to San Diego to concentrate on training for the NFL Scouting Combine.

Smith established himself as one of the nation’s best deep threats with a 28.2-yard average on 33 receptions with 12 touchdowns. He amassed 931 yards on those catches.

Draft analyst projections have Smith going anywhere from later in the first round to the early second. Some have suggested he could be a “sleeper” pick, which prompts another smile.

“I’ve done got that since high school,” he said, “so it’s no surprise to me. I really don’t worry about what other people have to say about me. I’ll go out there and work as hard as I can. I know how good I am. Just stay positive and stay humble.”

In addition to his skills as a deep threat, Smith was considered by coach Urban Meyer as the nation’s best gunner in punt coverage. The gunner is typically a speed guy on the outside of kick coverage units. The inference is that ability can only help boost his draft stock.

“I spoke with a few teams (Monday), and they all said they loved me at the gunner spot,” Smith said. “Coach Meyer said it adds value to your status. And you can tell because a lot of coaches really take value in that. Me taking that seriously and making some of the plays that I did on that unit really makes me more of a valuable player.”

Smith sounded a bit tired when asked about playing in a 16th game, and just a dozen days after the Buckeyes defeated Oregon 42-20 for the title in Arlington, Texas. Smith caught one 45-yard pass in that game. In Ohio State’s 42-35 semifinal playoff win over Alabama at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, he caught two passes for 87 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown.

“We’re kind of drained a little bit,” he said Tuesday, “but at the same time we’re having fun and just soaking everything in.”

Come another game day, it’s time to take care of business.

“Just perform and make plays,” Smith said. “If I can establish that, I think everybody will be talking about me.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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