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Breaking Down WR/KR Ihmir Smith-Marsette

A closer look at the Vikings’ 5th round WR/KR selection

The Vikings selected WR/KR Ihmir Smith-Marsette out of Iowa with the 157th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. He was ranked 171st on The Athletic’s consensus big board, as the 19th ranked wide receiver.

Traits

Ihmir Smith-Marsette is a smaller (181 pound), more typical slot receiver, with good burst or explosion grade, but average (4.5) speed among NFL wide receivers. Comparing him to another 5th round WR pick for the Vikings in recent years, named Stefon Diggs, you can see that Smith-Marsette is a bit lighter, slightly more athletic overall, version of Diggs.

Diggs has done just fine in the NFL with his athletic profile, and so it could be that Smith-Marsette could find similar success if he were able to excel in the other skills and techniques necessary for success in the NFL as a wide receiver, as Diggs has done.

College Grades and Stats

Smith-Marsette’s 28.7 yard kickoff return career average at Iowa ranks 2nd all-time in the Big Ten. He led the Big Ten in kickoff return average and was top 4 in the nation in both 2018 and 2019.

College Football Reference
College Football Reference

Pro Football Focus
Pro Football Focus

Scouting Reports

Thin-framed receiver whose value rests in his speed, gadget-package potential and kick-return talent. He’s an average route-runner and can be undone by physical coverage, which is likely to continue on the next level. His ball skills are below average on deep throws, but his ability to push the defense downfield should open up things for easy catches underneath. He’s a likely later-round candidate with potential to land a WR5 gig, thanks — in part — to his return value. - Lance Zierlein

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette can, for the right offense, be quite the steal in the 2021 NFL Draft. Smith-Marsette brings ample speed, return skills, and vertical receiving to the game, and his production at the University of Iowa isn’t necessarily the best indicator or how talented he actually is—especially given that his open targets were much too often left short or hung in the air long enough to draw defenders back into the play. Smith-Marsette brings a track background to the field and it shows. He’s a graceful runner with easy speed and is at his best when he’s charged with stacking defenders vertically. The Hawkeyes did manufacture some touches for Smith-Marsette courtesy of tunnel screens, double reverses, jet motions and touch passes. He was highly productive on a per-touch basis and, despite some of his limitations in functional strength and size, should find success in a vertical passing offense at the next level. It is worth noting that Smith-Marsette was arrested on Nov. 1, 2020 for speeding and operating a vehicle while intoxicated, plus saw his playing career come to an unceremonious end with a celebratory front flip on a touchdown that resulted in an ankle injury that shelved him for the rest of Iowa’s 2020 campaign.

Route Running: Smith-Marsette is at his best on double moves and deeper developing routes. He offers silky transitions and cuts down the field and pairs that with strong salesmanship of false breaks to force defenders off their landmarks. His use of head and hips to tell lies is effective and he’s impressive with how efficient he is stacking defenders on his vertical work. Effortless strides allow him to eat grass and run away from leverage effectively.

Hands: Smith-Marsette’s catch radius isn’t exceptional and he is somewhat of a body-catcher when he’s square to the football. He has extended to make plays out away from his frame but he’s not immune from letting the ball into his chest. He has flashed good hand strength in instances in which he’s disrupted late in the process of the catch.

Separation: The gas pedal is easy to find when you leave him room to work at the snap—he’s got long strides and is slippery with running through the contact window to stack vertically. His ability to break away from contact if he’s faced with length and physicality at corner is dependent on his ability to slip the first punch. The deeper the route, the more consistent separation he’ll find.

Release Package: He’s a bit more of a long-strider than he is someone with the wiggle and twitch from his stance to create space for himself—if you place him on the LOS against press, he may not consistently get out of the blocks and can see his timing disrupted. Iowa offered him some short-motion pre-snap in order to manufacture clean windows to get off the LOS.

Run After Catch: Smith-Marsette is slippery here and his open-field skills shine both in the screen game and on manufactured touches. He’s additionally quite effective in the return game to set up favorable angles with his initial release to isolate the first-arriving tackler and force errors. He’s surprisingly persistent against body contact and showcases good balance; his experience as a hurdler does him well to contort his frame and stick the landing. If you catch him in stride on vertical shots, his odds of a house call are pretty strong.

Ball Skills: Smith-Marsette’s catch radius is only modest and additionally he doesn’t thrive in contested situations. He won’t win you a lot of back-shoulder balls and Iowa passers consistently hung him out to dry with passes left way underthrown—forcing him to come back to the football. Despite all the experience on underthrows, he didn’t win consistently with high-point receptions. Over the shoulder tracking skills are where he shines best.

Football IQ: Smith-Marsette is well seasoned and has found plenty of ways to impact the game. He has a natural feel for the game as a ball-carrier and navigating high-congested areas without exposing himself to big blows. His route-running in the 20-plus yard depth is some of the best in show for his ability to hit double moves and position to hit home runs.

Versatility: There’s no reason why Smith-Marsette can’t serve as a kick returner at the pro game, adding value to his profile as a prospect. I wouldn’t call upon Smith-Marsette to play in offenses that rely on quick game and a lot of in-breaking routes inside of 10 yards—that isn’t to say he can’t find production there, but running him into squatters and asking him to win early and consistently against press at the LOS feels like a misjudgment of his skills.

Competitive Toughness: Functional strength isn’t a staple or cornerstone and despite some pleasant flashes of contact balance, he will generally get bullied against defenders looking to disrupt his timing or get him misaligned on his stem. He won’t offer a great deal of value in the blocking game, either—he’s a bit too light in the trunk to clamp down on defensive backs with consistency.

Big-Play Ability: He’s a home-run hitter. I love his upside in a vertical passing offense and he’s going to give you a number of clean looks vertically down the field. If your protection can block for three-plus seconds, let him double move or deep over and flood zones and enjoy the explosive plays he’ll bring to the table. - Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network

Positives: Smooth, fluid receiver who flashes ability. Displays a sense of timing, tracks the pass in the air, and consistently extends his hands to snatch the ball away from his frame. Possesses eye/hand coordination and agility and makes a lot of incredibly athletic receptions. Quickly turns upfield after the catch. Experienced kick returner.

Negatives: Doesn’t play to his 40-time or show a deep burst. Loses his focus and concentration and drops the occasional easy pass. Inconsistent.

Analysis: Smith-Marsette was given huge grades from NFL scouts entering the season, but he never lived up to expectations. He possesses terrific size as well as outstanding speed, but he must elevate his game to have a career at the next level.

Creativity, speed, explosion, and versatility. These are the things that Ihmir Smith-Marsette brings to the 2021 NFL Draft. Smith-Marsette ran a 4.5 at his pro day with an excellent 1.55 10-yard split, and he also logged a 37-inch vertical and a 124-inch broad jump. Bottom line, Smith-Marsette is not just fast, but his speed is explosive.

This perhaps goes back to his days as a high school hurdler. His explosion off the line of scrimmage is reminiscent to a sprinter exploding out of his blocks. His speed makes him a deep threat while his explosion helps him win on shorter pass plays. The defensive back has to prepare like he will burn him downfield. That allows Smith-Marsette to showcase great agility and footwork to work out-routes or comeback towards the quarterback.

The speed, explosion, and agility, make him a dangerous threat as a kick returner. He can easily make men miss in the open field and breakaway for big gains. This could be his biggest asset as it pertains to his NFL Draft stock in a deep wide receiver class. He is going to offer a team incredible value.

What are some potential concerns with Ihmir Smith-Marsette?

Like most NFL Draft prospects, Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette is far from the finished product and he does come with some concerns. He isn’t the most physical player by any stretch of the imagination. Particularly in press coverage, he can be bullied at the line of scrimmage. He needs to learn how to use his hands better at the line, as well as showing more awareness pre-snap to mentally prepare how he can utilize his footwork to win.

He struggled early in his career with dropped passes. Although the quarterback play at Iowa hasn’t helped, he still needs to prove that he can be a consistently reliable pair of hands.

There are some off-field concerns too. The Iowa wide receiver was arrested for speeding and driving under the influence during his senior season. His arrest ultimately led to a one-game suspension by the program as well as him going through the Iowa Student Athlete Code of Conduct process.

One of the more underrated deep threats in all of college football, Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette possesses a tantalizing skill set that will be highly coveted at the next level. With plus deep speed and impressive ball tracking ability, Smith-Marsette puts a ton of stress on defenses working in the vertical third of the field. He is not, however, a one trick pony. His ability as a deep threat will be his main selling point but Smith-Marsette has shown a ton of potential as a route runner. He is very fluid in and out of his breaks, showing a great understanding for how to attack leverage. Smith-Marsette is a long limbed pass catcher who has a ton of room to add weight but currently boasts a really slight frame. This limited his ability to win both at the line of scrimmage and at the catch point. You are going to need to maximize his release points as it currently stands. His hands are mostly solid but he has some troubling concentration drops on film. There is clearly a role for Smith-Marsette. With his fluidity, route running upside and ability as a deep receiver, there is a solid floor for him as a plus deep threat at the very least at the next level. - The NFL Draft Bible

College Film

Highlights

Bottom Line

I haven’t seen this comparable anywhere, but when I look at some of Smith-Marsette’s college film, there are aspects of his game that remind me of Stefon Diggs. A couple things in particular:

First, there is the abbreviated double-move - just a little shuffle step and head/body fake- to freeze the defender or turn him around that allows him to get past him deep. Secondly, there is the creativity and burst when he gets the ball in his hands just after the reception. Both Diggs and Smith-Marsette share a creativity and quick burst after a short reception that can allow them to get past the immediate defender and gain extra YAC. In that sense they both have a play-maker’s mentality to create as much as possible with the ball in their hands.

But Diggs was more advanced in a few key aspects of the position than Smith-Marsette, even as a rookie. First, Diggs was a better route runner- his breaks were more sudden, and he had a better, more instinctive grasp on the whole route tree. Secondly, Diggs had better hands than Smith-Marsette. Neither have a big catch-radius, but Diggs didn’t have as many drops as Smith-Marsette. Lastly, while both can get muscled in their routes by bigger, stronger defenders, Diggs advanced very quickly in learning how to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage.

For Smith-Marsette, these are all skills and techniques that can be improved with practice. He could also use to add another 10-15 pounds, so he can hold up better outside, and against bigger defenders. In college, Stefon Diggs had a coach that had this to say about him:

“I’ve preached to him to always practice like a pro and that is something he has worked on. I can tell you this — get the ball in his hands and he’s a different kind of football player.”

That advice seems to have served Diggs well over the years, and in his rapid development after being drafted. The latter proved to be true in the NFL as well. Fortunately for Smith-Marsette, that same coach, Keenan McCardell, is now the wide receivers coach for the Minnesota Vikings. It may be that if Smith-Marsette takes well to McCardell’s coaching, he could improve and follow a path similar to that of Stefon Diggs. We’ll see.

In the meantime, Smith-Marsette will also compete for kick- and most likely punt-returner duties.

Poll

What is Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s ceiling in the NFL?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Perennial Pro-Bowl caliber starter
    (49 votes)
  • 21%
    Above average starter
    (193 votes)
  • 25%
    Average starter
    (230 votes)
  • 5%
    Below-average starter
    (50 votes)
  • 19%
    Good WR3
    (177 votes)
  • 11%
    Average WR3
    (110 votes)
  • 11%
    Kick returner only
    (108 votes)
917 votes total Vote Now