Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.
One of the last remaining ACL All-Stars drafted on Trent Baalke’s watch, DeAndre Smelter hasn’t been horrible, but he hasn’t been anything fans hoped for either. Then again, what can be expected? Drafted in 2015, Smelter was redshirted for the 2015 season as he rehabbed his knee. In 2016 he was released and resigned to the practice squad eventually getting promoted to the active roster.
If his first start is anything to be hopeful about, his first reception was against the Seattle Seahawks for 23 yards.
So, why should there be hope in Smelter? This guy has big mitts—11 1/8 inch hands to be exact. He could be a great pass catcher in the redzone. Coming out of college at Georgia Tech, he was compared to former 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin for how physical he can be after the catch.
The problem is, we haven’t seen anything yet to merit keeping him around. He’s shown potential, but does he have the potential to thrive in Kyle Shanahan’s system? He’s had two years and one release. He’s on thin ice.
Experience: 0 accrued seasons (NFI as rookie, practice squad most of second season)
Weight: 220 lbs
He is entering the second year of a two-year deal signed when he was promoted from the practice squad last December. His 2017 base salary is $465,000.
Why He Might Improve in 2017
Smelter has some tools. There’s no denying that. The question is his comeback from a serious knee injury. He came from an offense that wasn’t exactly a throw-first system, so he has a lot of catching up to do as far as playing in an NFL offense, especially with the aforementioned knee issues. That catch against Seattle was a great start...except that was all he did in the 2016 season. There are no other stats listed to his name.
Specifically, Smelter needs to work on his speed. If he can get some sort of separation and then invoke his physical skill set, he very well could be a younger version of Anquan Boldin. Now that he’s a year removed from his ACL rehab, Smelter may have been training to make more plays on the 49ers offense. If he can work on his physicality, especially in the redzone, he could be an absolute beast for the 49ers. If he can get his speed up, he could be a legit No. 2 wide receiver for the team. But all of these are ifs.
Why He Might Regress in 2017
He’s been released once, and his return to the roster wasn’t exactly earth shattering. Plus the 49ers roster was bad in 2016, both in talent and in promotional evaluations. A 23 yard reception is nice for anyone, but if that’s all someone has on their resume, they are entering A.J. Jenkins territory. Perhaps Smelter just won’t get back to the potential he had before his knee injury.
Or maybe Kyle Shanahan’s offense is just what he needs. The offense definitely could use a wide receiver who stiff-arms defenders—not exactly a common trait But if Smelter can’t work on his speed and separation, as well as not catching balls when his number is called—he’s going to be one of the first players out the door.
Odds of Making the Roster
Smelter has a decent chance of making the roster as a backup. He’s a freakish specimen to not be given some time in the preseason to see how he can work as a physical pass-catching receiver.
Then again, we haven’t heard much from him in OTAs, and I hoped I’d hear something nice he did. Even for a single catch.
But everyone has measurables. It’s how they use them. The 49ers wide receiver corps got a nice shot in the arm this offseason in both the draft and free agency. It’s up to Smelter to carve his own distinct role out as a possible red-zone, pass catching threat. For that, he’s at a flat 50/50.
I’d put my money on him getting onto the main roster to start, but I won’t be surprised if they cut him on the way to the final 53-man.