Comparing draft’s top playmaker prospects against best competition. Who was best?

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Armando Salguero
·5 min read
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They have watched the tape. They have talked to the players either informally in person or on zoom calls. They have measured heights and distances, counted bench presses and timed speed.

NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins, are doing a lot of homework as they prepare for the 2021 Draft.

And as the April 29 first round approaches, it seems more as if the Dolphins, whose first pick is currently No. 6, are looking at the possibility of just a handful of players at that slot.

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.

Louisiana State receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith.

Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle.

Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell.

So let’s compare them in a way some NFL teams do and that is how they do against their common best opponents.

With the exception of Sewell, all these guys played in the Southeastern Conference. And that’s the closest thing to the NFL minor leagues that college football offers.

So let’s compare the four playmakers against those best common opponents. Let’s look at how these guys did in their biggest games, on the biggest stage.

(Sorry Mr. Sewell, you’re a stud lineman prospect and you’re a top-10 pick all day long, but you’re not a playmaker and you didn’t play in the SEC, and the Dolphins drafted two tackles in the first two rounds of the 2020 Draft, and if they use their top pick this year for another tackle I will lose my mind. So you’re sitting this one out.)

Let’s begin with the 2019 season.

All four playmakers played against Auburn. The Tigers were a top-15 team in the preseason and got as high as No. 7 at one point. They finished the year 9-4 so they were a good and have been traditionally talented.

Well, against that good, talented team:

Chase went off. He caught eight passes for 123 yards, including a 43-yarder.

Waddle had himself a day. He caught four passes for 98 yards, including a 58-yarder, and scored three touchdowns.

Smith was good. He caught five passes for 80 yards, including one that went for 33 yards.

And Pitts was right there as well. He caught eight passes for 65 yards, including a 32-yarder.

LSU and Alabama played for what was essentially the top spot in the SEC in November of ‘19. And Pitts also played against LSU that season.

So in that nationally televised Alabama vs. LSU game:

Waddle caught three passes for 22 yards. His longest catch was 9 yards.

Chase went off. He caught 6 passes for 140 yards, including a 35-yard catch. And he scored a touchdown.

But the best receiver on the field that game was Smith. He caught seven passes for 213 yards, including an 85-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa. Smith scored two toucdowns.

Pitts played against LSU that season and caught five passes for 108 yards, including a long of 25 yards.

In that same Florida vs. LSU game, Chase caught seven passes for 127 yards, including a 54-yarder, and scored two touchdowns.

Right now you’re saying all these guys are pretty good because they mostly show up in big games.

Let’s continue.

Georgia was a top-five team in 2019, and the Bulldogs played both Florida and LSU.

Pitts caught four passes for 78 yards against Georgia.

Chase caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown against Georgia in the SEC title game.

We all know bowl games and the playoffs are a big stage. And in that bright light venue:

Pitts had three catches for 39 yards against the University of Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Waddle had one catch for 7 yards against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.

Smith had three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown against Michigan.

And Chase had a solid game against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal and a stellar game against Clemson in the national championship game.

In the semi, Chase caught two passes for 69 yards.

In the championship game, Chase caught nine passes for 221 yards, including a 56-yarder, and two touchdowns.

That was the final college game Chase played because he opted out of the 2020 season.

That was also the last time all four playmakers participated in full seasons because Waddle fractured his ankle that prevented him from playing all but five games last season, Pitts opted out of Florida’s bowl game and Chase opted out of the entire season.

The only one of the playmakers who participated in every one of his team’s 2020 games was Smith. And, yes, he owned the season which is the reason he won the Heisman Trophy.

The 2020 comparison:

Waddle, Smith and Pitts played against Georgia.

Pitts caught two passes for 59 yards and a touchdown.

Waddle caught six passes for 161 yards and a touchdown.

Smith caught 11 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

All three played against Texas A&M.

Pitts caught five passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Waddle caught five passes for 142 yards, including an 87-yarder for a touchdown.

Smith caught six passes for 63 yards and a touchdown.

The Gators and Crimson Tide were the two best teams in the SEC last year (sorry, Georgia) so their game was a big deal.

Pitts caught seven passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in that game.

Smith caught 15 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in that game.

Waddle missed the game with the ankle injury.

Smith also owned the postseason.

He caught seven passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame. Waddle didn’t play.

He caught 12 passes for 215 yards (which broke Chase’s record of 213 yards set the year before) and had three touchdowns TDs in the national title game against Ohio State.

Waddle, making his first appearance since mid-October, caught three passes for 34 yards.

Pitts opted out of the Cotton Bowl.

So, this is normally where I’d share my opinion on which of these playmakers showed up and showed out the most in big moments the past two years.

Not going to do it this time. You decide.