Last night’s first round of the NFL Draft featured an NFC East carousel that saw the Eagles trade up two spots with Dallas (leapfrogging the Giants) to select Alabama wide receiver and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
The Eagles (like many teams in this range of the draft) had long been considered a candidate to trade up or down depending on how the board broke ahead of them, and in this instance Howie was aggressive in moving up for his man when the opportunity presented itself.
Some fans and pundits may have preferred the team go cornerback here, but given that the Birds haven’t had a WR total over 1,000 yards in a season since 2014 (the longest such drought in the NFL) it’s hard to disagree with this pick.
We profiled Smith early in the offseason, and he’s been a popular choice in Eagles mocks for much of the pre-draft process. Here’s how we described him a few weeks back:
The skinny: Smith doesn’t have the gaudiest physical or athletic traits, but he’s an absolute stag on the field. He wins at the line, he wins on his routes, and most importantly he wins at the point of catch. At 6’1 175 the Alabama product isn’t your typical blue-chip receiver, lacking the desired size and top-end speed that normally characterize prospects of his status; but Smith’s route-running, body control, explosiveness, and overall ball skills are elite. He’s a quarterback’s best friend in every sense of the phrase, and he’ll become a go-to target on third down and in the red zone from day one.
While his thin, lanky frame mostly has perceived disadvantages, long legs and arms have their benefit at the receiver position, and Smith is proof of that. Paired with quick feet, his length allows him to release off the LOS with ease, and long strides allow him to work out of breaks with consistent separation. When he gets moving vertically he glides past coverage, and uses those long arms to high-point and reel in throws over-top of and through defenders. Smith’s catch-radius is maxed out, as he’s capable of adjusting to and grabbing anything he can get a fingertip on.
What separates him from equally/more-talented receivers is his competitive streak. Two words that you’ll often hear from evaluators are “tough” and “clutch”—I normally scoff at the second tag, but it jives with a history of him being the go-to option for Bama’s offense under both Tua Tagovoila and Mac Jones. Even among a 2019 WR group loaded with four NFL receivers, ‘Bama called Smith’s number when they needed a big play most, and there’s a reason for that.
If it’s not already clear from the record-breaking numbers, the jaw-dropping tape, or the Heisman Trophy: DeVonta Smith is a do-it-all football player who, despite an awkward physical build, is one of the top WR prospects of the last decade.
Can Smith stand to add 10-15 lbs. of muscle at the next level? Absolutely. But if he can’t put that weight on a near maxed-out frame without losing his explosiveness then I wouldn’t call it necessary—if he can hang tough enough in the SEC to produce 185 catches, 3,112 yards, and 37 TDs over the last two seasons then he isn’t suddenly going to crumble from hits at the next level.
Ultimately, DeVonta Smith is on the same level of playmaker as JaMarr Chase and Kyle Pitts, but with underwhelming measurables somewhat-predictably nerfing his draft stock, the Eagles were able to grab someone at 10 who they were likely strongly considering at 6.
Rewind back two months ago and tell me Howie would turn the sixth overall pick and the 83rd overall pick into DeVonta Smith and a first-round pick next year and I’d call that a best case scenario. While there’s still nine more picks to be made tonight and tomorrow, it’s fair to say the Eagles are off to a strong start.
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