Iowa Football: Unselfish Brandon Smith shouldn’t go unnoticed

Nov 7, 2020; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) warms up before the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2020; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) warms up before the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

For Iowa football, receiver Brandon Smith can do more than just catch passes. His contributions shouldn’t go without praise.

Brandon Smith may be one of college football’s best-kept secrets. The senior wideout hasn’t filled the stat sheet this season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been productive for the Iowa Hawkeyes‘ offense.

When he’s not making highlight-reel catches, Smith is quietly doing whatever Iowa’s coaches ask of him. He’s either helping his team in the running game by bulldozing smaller defensive backs, or drawing double coverage in the passing game due to his enormous 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and XXXL-sized hands.

Against the Minnesota Gophers last Friday night, it was the former. Smith garnered the No. 1 run-blocking grade among all Iowa players, according to Pro Football Focus. He was not targeted once in the passing game.

The Hawkeyes racked up 237 rushing yards, including a career day from sophomore running back Tyler Goodson (142 yards and two touchdowns). Smith played a pivotal role in Iowa’s success on the ground, locking down second-level defenders after Iowa’s runners moved past the line of scrimmage.

Throughout this season, Smith hasn’t gotten as many opportunities as he might’ve hoped for. He caught 37 receptions for 439 yards and five touchdowns last season in nine games played, but has hauled in just nine receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns in four appearances in 2020.

With a first-year starting quarterback in Spencer Petras, the Iowa passing attack has declined from last year. The Hawkeyes have been much more apt to run the ball, especially because of the emergence of Goodson, a budding star at running back.

Still, Smith has been a safety blanket for Petras, even when the ball hasn’t been on target. Both of his touchdown receptions this season came on spectacular circus catches, something we’ve gotten used to seeing during Smith’s time with the Hawkeyes.

In the rare instance that Smith does get single coverage, he relishes the opportunity – and, he usually comes down with the football. Every pass to Smith may as well be called a 90-10 throw rather than a 50-50 ball.

“I feel like I’m a dangerous receiver, and more times than not in a 1-on-1 matchup, I am going to come down with that ball,” Smith said last week.

“You’ve seen it throughout Brandon’s career here. He’s an outstanding player. Really good when the ball is in the air,” said Petras. “I have a lot of confidence in the 50-50 ball, for him to come down and make a play. He proves himself week in, week out, in practice, and on the game field. He’s doing a great job.”

Smith’s quarterback and coaches aren’t the only ones taking notice, either. Even with little to show for in the stats column this season, Smith has also gained buzzed from a notable NFL talent evaluator.

Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout and current executive director of the Senior Bowl, sees Smith as a sneaky draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“Stats might not show it, but one prospect emerging early in Big Ten season is Hawkeye Football wide receiver Brandon Smith,” Nagy wrote in a tweet. “Battled through injuries last year and looks more athletic and explosive in 2020. [Iowa’s coaching staff] expects him to post a 40-inch vertical jump at nearly 220 pounds this spring.”

Even if Smith continues to post lackluster numbers this season – at least, at face value – he may still garner high draft capital from an NFL front office that’s done their due diligence.

Smith has the size of a prototypical ‘X’ receiver with the aggressiveness needed in the run game. He could be an early contributor on special teams in the NFL as a valuable asset as a blocker in the return game.

For now, though, Smith will be focused on finishing out his college career. The Hawkeyes have four games left on their regular season schedule, starting with a road matchup against Penn State this coming Saturday, Nov. 21.

The versatile Smith will go down as one of Iowa’s most talented receivers. The numbers don’t do him justice; Smith is one of college football’s best players. It’s time the rest of the country recognized that.

Next. How the Hawkeyes can still win the Big Ten West. dark