DeAndre Smelter will open training camp with the San Francisco 49ers on the team's Active/Non-Football Injury List.
The fourth-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech was not excpected to be on the field for the start of a camp due to a late-season ACL tear that still needs rehabilitation work. The injury was another chapter in Smelter's unique road to the 49ers. He was once a Major League Baseball draft pick of the Minnesota Twins and a relief pitcher for the Yellow Jackets. Smelter eventually transitioned from the diamond to the gridiron after experiencing arm issues.
The 6-foot-2, 227-pound wideout went on to play in 25 games (20 starts) for Georgia Tech. He caught 56 passes for 1,060 yards (18.9 average) and 11 touchdowns in a run-first, triple-option offense led by coach Paul Johnson.
Smelter, 23, is still held in high regard by his coach. We learned this and more in a recent phone conversation with Johnson, who is getting ready for his eighth season in the ACC.
Q: What do you recall most about DeAndre's time in your program?
A: I think DeAndre is a really talented young man. He's got a high degree of physical toughness, he loves to play the game and he's going to do whatever you ask him to help you win games.
Q: What do you remember about his transition from baseball to football, and what did you see that made you believe he could become an impact player at Georgia Tech?
A: He was a really good high school football player. He was heavily recruited coming out of high school. We had actually recruited him a little bit while he was entertaining being recruited in football. He decided he was going to go in a different route and was a draft pick in baseball. And so he decided that was what he was going to do. We were aware at the time of him possibly playing football and fortunately at the time I had a scholarship open, so we felt it was worth a try.
Q: DeAndre's size-11 hands have been much discussed, how did he use his hands to his advantage?**
A: He's a good athlete. He made a lot of big plays for us, some outstanding catches, and like I said, he was an athletic guy. We've been fortunate to have several good wide receivers at Georgia Tech, and I would certainly put him up there with some of our better players. He just made plays.
Q: DeAndre slid to the fourth round because of his knee injury, but how much potential do you see for him in his NFL career?
A: I think he has unlimited potential. He certainly got better for us from Year 1 to Year 2. He was a hard worker. And as good of an athlete and as good of a player he was, he's as good as a person. He's going to do everything possible to make himself the best he can be. I think he has a very high ceiling.
Q: Georgia Tech's offense is known for the triple-option attack, but a wide receiver can get opportunities to make big plays with play-action, how did you see DeAndre handle his role and thrive as a pass-catcher and a dominant run-blocker?
A: Our guys understand that if you're a good blocker, then it's going to create a lot of opportunities for you in play-action. Certainly he was very good in that aspect, but he also made a lot of plays on regular conventional routes, stop and gos, and all types of things. He can make decisions on the run, and like I said, I he has the ability to go up and finish the play.
Q: How tough was it to see DeAndre get injured so late in the season, and how did you see him approach his rehab work while he was at Georgia Tech?
A: It was very disappointing when he got injured. He was a huge part of our success as a team. We lost him before the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl, and he was without question one of the better players on our football team. I think personally it hurt him not being able to go to the combine, because I felt like he could run a good time, and he was going to do well in the interviews and test (well) physically as well. But he's attacking the rehab just like practice and playing. He's going to work at it as hard as he can. I think he's motivated to have a bright future in the NFL.
With the 132nd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected WR DeAndre Smelter out of Georgia Tech.