As football analysts everywhere scramble to put their mock drafts together, the rankings of Chase and Smith have been one of the most hotly-contested topics in this year's draft. So far, the two have been fairly interchangeable in early first-round projections.
ESPN NFL Draft analyst veteran Mel Kiper Jr. has made his decision between the two talented prospects. He sites Chase's decision to opt out of the 2020 season as the reason he should fall below Smith.
"With Chase, had he played this year and I understand why he didn't, with COVID, with business decision about losing all those players around him," Kiper said on an ESPN draft podcast. "Of course led by Joe Burrow I get it. It was a terrible year overall for LSU on the field, but I think you look at Ja'Marr Chase you couldn't have contact without opt outs. Team scouts couldn't go there, keep checks on them, work them out, do anything with the opt outs. Had no contact without opt outs. So how's their body? How's their weight? What have they been doing? How they've been training? All these things."
Chase was the leading receiver on LSU's 2019 championship squad. Through 14 games that year, the deep-ball threat notched 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Unfortunately for his draft stock, Chase hasn't seen the field in over a year.
Smith on the other hand has a bounty of recent accolades to back up his hype.
Through the Crimson Tide's 2020 national championship season, the undersized receiver lit up the league with 117 receptions, 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. With these incredible statistics, Smith became just the fourth wide receiver in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy.
"DeVonta Smith had a phenomenal year. DeVonta Smith went out and produced week after week against elite opposition," Kiper said. "It's hard to say, I'm gonna still leave Chase, who had a higher grade going into the year than DeVonta Smith did, but with him not playing...and only had remember year before he had that great year in 2019. He had some drops (in 2018). He had minimal production. Then he goes up from like 20-something catches to 84 with 20 touchdowns and a 21-yard average per catch with Joe Burrow and Justin Jefferson on the other side.
"And DeVonta did it all these years no matter who was with him. They took those receivers away. Jaylen Waddle gets hurt. 'No problem. I'm still gonna like defenses up.' So I'm gonna stick with the DeVonta Smith over Ja'Marr Chase, but there are a lot of people in the league that I've talk to that have Chase over Smith."
The 2021 NFL Draft will begin on Apr. 29.