Uber-Athlete Smelter Could Add Depth, Toughness To Steelers WR Corps

Sometimes life has a different path than the one we preconceive for ourselves. Professional athletes aren’t found around every corner, and even more rare are those with the capabilities of excelling in multiple professional sports, like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders did, juggling their NFL and MLB careers. For former Georgia Tech wide receiver, and 2015 NFL Draft hopeful DeAndre Smelter, such is the case, except that football wasn’t his first true love, baseball was. And he was damn good at it.

“Coming out of high school, I was dead set on baseball being my ticket,” Smelter said.

Yesterday, Alex Kozora did a draft profile on Smelter, but his backstory is something in and of itself. Just a few short years ago, at Tatnall Square Academy, Smelter was considered the cream of the crop when it came to the nation’s finest pitchers. He sported a 95 mph fastball, he led the high school to back-to-back state championships in 2008 and 2009, hell he even already had renowned agent Scott Boras ready to represent him. He was taken in the 14th round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins in 2010, but signed with Georgia Tech instead, planning to command a hefty signing bonus after his junior year. However, reoccurring shoulder pains continued to haunt him, to the point he even sat out the 2012 season. He rehabbed to the point of exhaustion, but to no avail, and he knew the writing was on the wall, and his career was over.

Coincidentally enough, GT head football coach Paul Johnson recruited Smelter as a defensive back coming out of high school, and after sitting down with him, he was still interested, only this time as a receiver.

“When he decided to make the transition to football, we talked about it, and I told him I just wanted him to be happy,” his mother, Cora Smelter, said.

He had to work for everything he got though, submerging himself in the playbook and putting in extra reps after practice.

“I didn’t know what he could do initially, but he had some ability,” GT receivers coach Al Preston said. “He never talked about what he wanted to do, he just came to work.”

He got his foot in the door for playing time as a junior, and recorded 21 grabs for 345 yards and 4 touchdowns. Still, back to the drawing board Smelter went, and he became best friends with the JUGS ball machines after practices, often by himself.

“It’s a process, but he’s going to play and help us. He keeps making plays,” head coach Johnson said.

When new starting quarterback Justin Thomas was given the reigns, Smelter would call him often, looking to hit the practice fields for as many reps as possible, and the behind the scenes work was no more evident than this past fall. At one point, he was on the receiving end of 43 percent of the team’s pass attempts-second in the nation behind arguably the most polished receiver in this year’s draft, Amari Cooper of Alabama. He grabbed 35 passes for 715 yards and 7 scores en route to All-ACC second team honors, but tragedy struck again in one of the last games of the season, as Smelter suffered a torn ACL, ending his season.

Again, rehabbing is key, but his timetable for a return is murky at best.

“DeAndre tries not to let anything get in his way,” his mother said. “He picks himself and goes forward to what he needs to do.”

He offers an intriguing package to a receiver-needy team that’s willing to gamble on him. The Pittsburgh Steelers are set at their top three spots, and depth is always a good thing to have, especially with last year’s #4 Darrius Heyward-Bey not a sure thing to be re-signed. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Smelter is exactly that, a bigger receiver who almost has the stocky build of a running back, and also has the mean streak and physicality to match his size. He’s also dangerous post-catch and uses his physical nature and strong hands to win when boxing out smaller corners or on jump balls. In a way, he sounds like a jumbo version of former Steelers legend Hines Ward, and it doesn’t hurt that blocking is a forte of Smelter as well. Despite only two years of college football, he shows a maturity beyond his years.

“I hate that he tore his ACL,” says one NFC area scout. “We throw the phrase “athlete” and “competitor” around quite a bit in this business, but he embodies that. If he hadn’t had a shoulder problem, I think we would be talking about him as a major leaguer right now.”

Despite their well documented issues in the secondary and at outside linebacker, the Steelers could use some receiver depth, although their top three are set with All-World Antonio Brown, lanky deep threat Martavis Bryant and slot receiver Markus Wheaton. Behind them is anyone’s guess, and the team will likely go back to their recent calling card on taking a flier on a late round receiver, in hopes of unearthing another steal. With his injury so late in the season, Smelter may not be ready for training camp or even the regular season, but with such a promising group in front of him, immediate playing time wouldn’t be necessary.

While once an afterthought to baseball, his focus is now 100 percent on not only making an NFL roster, but contributing.

“Out of high school, my mindset was baseball – that’s all I really wanted to do,” he said. “I was trying to make a decision that was best for me and my family … but this is a chance for me to come out here and do something. I really didn’t want to go through college having any regrets saying I should have done this or that. I had a second chance to do something I really love and took advantage of it.”

  • Jonathan D Worth

    Has there ever been a name that screams “Steelers” more than Smelter? Love it.

  • CEE

    Is he projecting to be picked somewhere in the draft or is he a likely udfa with the acl?

  • rey

    Hell draft both gt receivers smelter and waller in the the late rounds maybe the same round because of possible comp picks and with that we have our receiver corp set for years!

  • Ryan

    Take him in the 6th or 7th!

  • CaSteeler

    I think he’s predicted to be drafted in the late 5th to early 7th.

  • Matt Manzo

    The thinking is we draft him late, that way he’s under contract for a few years and can rest on IR, right?
    UDFAs can’t sign multiyear deals?

  • Alex Kozora

    They can and usually do.

  • Matt Manzo

    Do you think there’s a good chance he gets drafted, if not by us?

  • CEE

    Thanks

  • CW

    If the Steelers have an extra 6th or 7th he could be a real find if he recovers.

  • johnhoien

    Just watched his highlights.. He does remind me of a much bigger Hines Ward! Sorta stalky & running back lookin. But looks faster.. I’m sold, lets do it.

  • Lucas Campbell

    I think we should take a shot in the 6th or 7th, he can’t be any worse than DHB and plus we can let him rehab. Could turn into another Colbert late-round steal!

  • Matt Manzo

    I’m all for it! I was just wondering if signing him as a udfa is possible? My late round picks are starting to get crowded!

  • SteelHorseman

    Anyone know when compensatory picks will be announced?

  • pittfan

    I really hope this guy catches on somewhere. I absolutely love these guys that show his dedication and toughness. These are traits that you need to excel and you either have or you don’t at this stage. These are the kind of guys that help you win championships

  • Alex Kozora

    I think he will get drafted. Don’t see him as a UDFA.

  • JNick

    I could go another 2000 posts on here without anyone using the word uber.

  • JNick

    Of course….Steely McBeam!

  • Paddy

    So many players to draft, so few draft choices

  • Matt Manzo

    I guess what confuses me is we’d still have to find another 4th WR for this year.

  • Terrible Towlie

    thank you

  • Douglas Andrews

    I was sold after watching several of his games last season. If he didn’t tear his ACL his stock could have jumped up to at least a 3rd round pick and possible 2nd.

  • Terrible Towlie

    not unless we resign one of our own, or sign a FA…Jacoby Jones signed with SD I think…so there goes that but Ginn is still available, would give us a dependable return man and a decent 4th wr, he had a really good 2013 in Carolina, then was passed by in AZ by younger cheaper rising players (brown and Brown) he still has elite speed and developed some pretty good hands while in Carolina, i’d get him now, have 4th wr covered and we can just take best guy left which may be a wr anyway

  • LucasY59

    #4 WR could be interesting, I would think if DHB is willing to take another min contract, they would sign him back (worth it for his ST contributions) Goodwin is still around from last yr on the PS, futures guy Washington is similar to Bryant height/speed (obviously less talent/speed than Bryant, but still should make a good camp) I guess you would add Archer to the WR group since he proved he really isn’t a RB, (guess it looks like they didnt really need to worry about keeping/losing J.Brown) They could add a Vet FA like Ginn, or maybe Weems for ST, Denarius Moore has some good speed.

  • LucasY59

    they usually draft a WR, this year if its earlier than a 6th rd pick I will be very surprised, but they could find another great talent late like AB, Smelter looks good, Waller also (but his size/speed could move him up to the mid rds where the Steelers arent going to pick a WR) Stephon Diggs could be a good returner type, Antwan Goodley is similar to Smelter (without the height but similar weight and physicality, might have better speed) a couple other more physical possession type WR’s with good size are Matt Miller and Austin Hill (both good early parts of their college careers and injuries slowed them down, but still would be worth a late pick or UDFA invite) the other WR I am interested in is Gardner (former QB has good size, interested to see if he can make the switch and worth a trip to TC to find out)

  • SteelHorseman

    I’m intrigued by that CJ Goodwin on our practice sqyad

  • Josh Gustad

    If he is drawing Ward comparisons draft him immediately. I think we could get him in the sixth.

  • Terrible Towlie

    from what I’ve seen of him so far, he was a favor to Mel Blount… there are tons of good wr’s in this draft, the only way we don’t end up with a good one is not to draft one….. another intriguing vet is Eddie Royal, he can return and is a sure handed redzone threat….he’s getting up there, but he still plays at a high level, and that is what it seems everyone want an older vet to be a mentor type and be able to start if one of the top guys go down, and the fact he’s older may make it more likely to sign a friendly contract and except a more limited role to have a chance at a ring

  • SteelHorseman

    Towlie, I think you’re wrong on this one. I don’t believe the steelers would keep someone on their practice squad for a year and risk losing other valuable players as a favor to Blount. They’d give him a look I’m sure. Anyway, the kid has good size and speed. I’m holding out hope he will be a pleasant surprise

  • Terrible Towlie

    he’s a physical specimen but i haven’t seen football player yet….its hard to say why they keep a lot of the players they do over others, why keep Landry Jones instead of Mauro? what has he shown that’s says he must be kept on the 53? why Howard Jones over Vic So’Oto? it was Vic’s great pass rush moves that got him to the QB to cause the fumbles that were gifted to Jones that made the team for him.