Waller, Smelter out to improve NFL standing

Studying wide receivers from Georgia Tech is a chore for most NFL teams.

Over the past few years, the scale has started with Calvin Johnson and slid across the spectrum to Stephen Hill.

Johnson, who plays for the Detroit Lions, is widely considered the best receiver in the NFL. Hill dazzled folks at the scouting combine in 2012 and was selected in the second round (43rd overall) by the New York Jets.

After two unproductive seasons, Hill was released and spent last season on Carolina’s practice squad.

There’s also Demariyus Thomas, a 2010 draft pick who developed into a Pro Bowler.

NFL teams must determine if Tech wide receivers Darren Waller and DeAndre Smelter are closer to the Johnson/Thomas mold of receiver or closer to Hill.

Both Waller and Smelter have promising NFL attributes.

Waller is 6-foot-6, 238 pounds and flashed greatness for the Yellow Jackets. Smelter, a former baseball pitcher, is 6-2, 226 pounds and played with a great degree of toughness.

Waller has been interrogated by NFL teams about his two suspensions and his production.

“The big kid Waller I saw at the East-West game, and he ran well today,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “He’s 6-6 and some change. He ran really fast. So, you want to like him.”

Waller caught 51 passes for 971 yards and nine touchdowns in three seasons at Tech. He played mostly on special teams as a freshman.

Waller ran an unofficial 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, lifted 225 pounds 12 times, had a 37-inch vertical and 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump at the scouting combine. He needed a strong showing after struggling at the Shrine Bowl.

He had one bad drop while running the gauntlet drill.

“The issue that I had with him at the East-West game was when they did the red-zone drills live, man-to-man coverage, a lot of the smaller (defensive) backs were ripping the ball out of his hands,” Mayock said. “If you are a big 6-foot-6 guy like he is, that’s where he’s going to make his money, in the red zone and outside the numbers.

“So, if 5-foot-10 backs are ripping the ball out of your hands, you’ve got a problem. Your hands have to get stronger. But he’s the type of guy you’d like to work with.”

Mayock also noted that Waller need to be proficient in running NFL routes and being at the right spot when the quarterback is taking three-, five- and seven-step drops.

“That means short, intermediate and deep routes,” Mayock said. “You actually get to see a progression of routes from each receiver.”

Some teams believe that Waller can bulk up to 250 to 260 pounds and move to tight end. He projects as a seventh-round draft pick or an undrafted prospect, according to nfldraftscout.com.

Smelter, the team’s leading receiver, injured his knee in the Jackets’ win over Georgia. He was quarterback Justin Thomas’ favorite target, catching 35 passes for 715 yards (20.4 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. He also had three rushes for 103 yards.

Before the knee injury, Smelter had developed into a more polished wide receiver. He also is a strong perimeter blocker, but was not able to work out at the combine.

“The Smelter kid is intriguing,” Mayock said. “I don’t think he’s twitchy, but he’s athletic. He’s the baseball kid. He’s kind of a powerful kid with some run after the catch. Natural hands.

“You can see him track the ball in the air like a baseball player. I like him. But I don’t know how much the injury is going to hurt him or not. He’s a little bit raw.”

Waller and Smelter could get overlooked in what is considered a strong wide-receiver class.

Alabama’s Amari Cooper, West Virginia’s Kevin White and Louisville’s DeVante Parker are considered the top three wide receivers in the draft.