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Versatility should allow Jake Smith to carve out a role in slot receiver rotation

With the wide receiver room becoming increasingly competitive, Smith’s versatility should allow him to see touches elsewhere in 2019.

Twitter: @jakesmith27

Between recent recruiting efforts and contributors such as Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay returning for their senior seasons, Sam Ehlinger and the Texas Longhorns won’t be without options in 2019, and plenty of them. In addition to the two leading returning receivers, former high school All-Americans including Joshua Moore, Brennan Eagles, Al’Vonte Woodard, Malcolm Epps, and Bru McCoy are among the next wave of high-upside wide outs waiting in the wings, just to name a select few of those already in Austin participating in spring practice.

Simply put, the Texas wide receiver room appears to be as deep and talent-rich as any position on the roster. While this is certainly ideal for a program pursuing national prominence, it also means that a former highly-touted talent such as Jake Smith isn’t required to become the immediate plug-and-play pass catcher he may have been in previous years, regardless of how ideal of a fit he may be in the slot.

Nevertheless, signing the Gatorade National Player of the Year necessitates finding ways to get that player the football, which, of course, could prove a bit challenging when the receiver room, and specifically the slot position as it pertains to Smith, is as chock-full with weapons as it’s set to be in 2019.

Fortunately for Smith and for the Texas staff as they aim to figure out how to get the speedy slot onto the field, Smith’s versatility could prove especially valuable, as head coach Tom Herman detailed during his Early Signing Period press conference.

“Jake Smith, the numbers speak for themselves. He’s a Gatorade National Offensive Player of the Year,” Herman said. “He can do everything: run it, catch it, return it, play DB, I’m sure he could drive the bus to the away games if you needed him to. Multi-sport athlete. Excels at lacrosse, as well. Just excited about his versatility.”

Bearing in mind that Moore and McCoy are already on campus and competing for playing time in the slot, it’s quite possible that by the time Smith steps foot on the Forty Acres, he’s merely fighting for his place as the third option in the slot. This, of course, in contingent upon how well Moore progresses under heightened expectations and competition, as well as McCoy’s pending eligibility. But in any case, playing time won’t simply be parceled out as freely as servings at a soup kitchen.

So again, as it pertains to Smith’s path to playing time, his versatility is infinitely valuable.

Something of a Swiss Army knife type of talent, Smith is regarded as one of the premier wide receiver prospects in his class, ranking No. 8 nationally at the position after amassing 1,112 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2018. But his impact was felt all over the field for Scottsdale (Ariz.) Notre Dame Preparatory.

In addition to his primary role as a receiver, Smith collected 741 yards and 15 scores on 100 carries as a complementary option to junior running back Dominick Mastro, and excelled as a returner, as well, averaging 38.2 yards per kick return and 19.7 per punt return.

In doing so, Smith displayed his dynamic ability with the ball in his hands, flashing great burst, quite a bit of cut-and-go ability, more than his share of shiftiness in space, and the kind jaw-dropping speed in the open field that may be unparalleled by any receiver on the current roster.

Though Smith’s raw speed and fluidity as a route runner are largely what allows him to fit the mold as the prototypical slot receiver — he’s maybe more of a natural fit in the slot than Moore and McCoy — that same speed and explosive nature are what will allow Texas to implement him elsewhere if and when Moore or McCoy are seeing most of the reps in the slot.

To that end, consider the ways in which Texas aimed to utilize D’Shawn Jamison’s speed and explosiveness as a returner and during jet sweeps last season.

Now, project those touches transferring to a prospect who’s seemingly far more suited to fit that specific role.

“They want to use me in the backfield and also at receiver,” Smith previously told Sports260AZ. “A lot of the backfield stuff will be jet sweeps and just trying to get me the ball to the outside, but mainly I’ll play slot receiver and I think that’s where I’ll fit best. I’ll also have my opportunities on the outside on one-on-ones, so I think they want to use me in a lot of different ways. Also, in the return game, I forgot about that, so they see me as a versatile player and they want to use me that way.”