We have all played it. We have also been subjects of the game, even if it was unbeknownst to us. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the game is simple and fun. You spot someone who looks like someone famous, or someone you know, and tell your friend to look at that person. You both have a laugh, and no one is the wiser. The Doppelganger Game.
Restaurant workers play the game religiously. In fact, you may have likely had few meals where an employee did not use you as the victim. In most cases, it is used to increase efficiency. Instead of a bartender asking a server to deliver a drink to “the guy with the beard” or “the dude with the dreads,” he might instead say “give this to Ryan Fitzpatrick” or “take this to Larry Fitzgerald.” There might be three guys in beards, and four with dreads, but the guy with the biggest beard and the 6’3” guy in the dreads will get their drink expeditiously.
The same game can be applied to fantasy football. We all love to figure out what a rookie or young rising player projects to be. A level of advantage is created by giving a proper comparison for a player in order to estimate the areas said player could thrive. In 2019, when rookie quarterback Kyler Murray was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals his doppelganger was a no-brainer: Russell Wilson. The height and build were similar: Both played baseball in college, and moved exceptionally well in and outside of the pocket. While there are subtle differences in their effectiveness on the field, the similarities are apparent. If you were able to make the comparison and drafted accordingly, Murray has been a great draft pick and a cornerstone of your dynasty team.
To start the 2021 season, there are a few players whose doppelganger may be challenging to find. To properly gauge the fantasy value and potential upside of a rookie, let’s play the doppelganger game.
Alabama standout Devonta Smith is coming off a historic season. His numbers in 2020 earned him a Heisman trophy as a wide receiver. That feat had not been accomplished since Desmond Howard won it in 1991 while at the University of Michigan. Smith became just the fourth wide receiver to receive the award in its history. He hauled in 117 catches on 147 targets for a staggering 1856 yards and 23 touchdowns in 12 games. Production of that caliber cannot come without opportunity and Smith definitely saw his share with 34.6% of targets going his way. Combine that opportunity with a 79.6% catch rate and the result is one of the best seasons in college football history. Naysayers will point to his 2019 season when Smith only saw a 21.2% target share while 2020 first-round picks Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs were still on the team. Despite the lower target share, Smith still managed 68 catches for 1256 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019. His back to back productive seasons speak to a consistency that will continue to flourish at the next level.
Smith is projected to be a high first-round pick in this year’s draft, but what is his ceiling? In order to find Smith’s ideal Doppelganger, we have to go back a couple of decades. Smith is a dead ringer for Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison. We never want to compare a rookie coming into the league to Hall of Famers, but sometimes the resemblance is too evident to overlook. Both receivers can be perceived as slight of frame with Smith being listed at 175 pounds while Harrison was registered at 181 pounds at his 1996 combine. Despite the slight frame, both receivers have reputations for being tougher and stronger than their frames indicate. Alabama coaches have gone as far as to suggest Smith could play cornerback. Stature is a match as Smith is listed at 6’1 and Harrison. Although no official 40 time is listed for Harrison, his track numbers and college workouts have him running anywhere from 4.38 to 4.49. Smith is slated to run sub 4.49 this offseason as well.
The similarities run well past the physical appearance. The film is where the two players demonstrate similar traits. The ability to create separation shown by Smith in 2020 is well beyond his years since he is only 22 years old. Harrison was known for his ability to get open throughout his career which led to him to receive over 100 targets in 11 consecutive seasons. Harrison turned that opportunity into eight straight pro bowls, three first team all-pro selections and eight seasons with double digit touchdowns. Harrison was prolific but he didn’t become a bonafide star until his fourth season. In his first three seasons Harrison never had more than 73 catches, 866 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Not coincidentally in 1998, Harrison’s third year, the Indianapolis Colts selected Peyton Manning. By 1999, both players were in the Pro Bowl and well on their way to being one of the greatest quarterback-receiver duos of all time.
In order to lock Smith in as a Harrison doppelganger, the landing spot will play a big role. Harrison’s success can be directly tied to elite quarterback play from Peyton Manning. Currently, Smith is projected to be drafted no lower than sixth overall to the Philadelphia Eagles and as high as second overall to the Jets in most mock drafts. The two spots that seem to make the most sense however are at the fifth spot to the Cincinnati Bengals and 13th to the Los Angeles Chargers. In a new age NFL with teams running more three-wide sets, Smith to the Bengals or Chargers would be ideal. 2020’s top pick Joe Burrow will be returning from injury to a sophomore standout in Tee Higgins, a veteran slot man in Tyler Boyd, and an elite route runner in Smith. With running back Joe Mixon expected to have a bounce back season after an injury-plagued 2020, the Bengals would suddenly have one of the most talented skill groups in the league.
We saw Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert have early statistical success reminiscent of Manning and another Colt quarterback, Andrew Luck. The Chargers also have skill players in place to help Smith transition smoothly into the NFL. Playing alongside one of the game’s best route runners in Keenan Allen will go a long way towards helping Smith shine.
Wherever Smith lands, one lucky franchise will have a player with the potential to be a Hall of Famer. Harrison made eighteen franchises regret passing on him in 1996. How many will regret passing on his doppelganger?