It’s time to stop overlooking DeVonta Smith’s explosive rookie year

Eagles devonta smith
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 03: Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver Devonta Smith (6) sets up for a play in the first half during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles on October 03, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles might be going through the motions as a team in the heart of a rebuild, but one of the most consistent players on the team also happens to be one of the youngest. DeVonta Smith was drafted with the tenth overall pick in this years’ NFL Draft, but through six weeks of the NFL season, it would be easy to confuse him for a five-year vet.

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but to many it will. Despite his eclectic resume, the 2020 Heisman winner was doubted heavily due to his lean frame. At just 170 lbs, fans were concerned that he wouldn’t be strong enough to fight through contact at the next level. But those who watched the tape knew that there would first have to be contact to fight through, a rarity thanks to Smith’s route-running prowess.

During his final season with the Crimson Tide, he amassed 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. That production has translated directly to a dysfunctional offense, with Smith hauling in a team-leading 27 receptions and 345 yards while posting a single touchdown which came in his debut. Since then, he’s had another negated by a poorly called penalty, and has been missed on several occasions by Jalen Hurts despite carving open corners at any given opportunity.

If we’re talking about sheer yardage, he ranks 35th in the league, while his 12.8 yards per catch rank 50th. Lost in the shuffle, Smith doesn’t have dazzling numbers just yet, largely due to the offensive woes. But if we compare him to rookie wideouts, he holds up much better.

Second only to Ja’Marr Chase, Smith has ten fewer catches than Jaylen Waddle but has 44 more yards to his name. Chase may lead the way in receiving, but he’s being used almost exclusively deep down the field. In fact, coming into week 6, 68% of his total receiving yards came on balls with 15+ yards through the air, along with four touchdowns. We know that this is a huge area of weakness for Jalen Hurts, meaning Smith has to do most of his work at the intermediate level, somewhat limiting his ceiling.

Smith has decimated his assignments on a weekly basis through a violent release that demands corners to allow him breathing room at the line, and the ability to stop on a dime at the top of his routes, fooling defensive backs before transitioning all of his energy seamlessly to burst in the opposite direction and generate acres of open space for a target.

Showing an ability to work back to the ball and help out a quarterback who has been facing an uphill battle, Smith isn’t just the Eagles’ top receiver, but he’s become an integral piece of the offense in the way that he opens things up for playmakers like Dallas Goedert to shine when targeted thanks to safeties playing deeper to account for Smith’s skillset.

The numbers are exciting. DeSean Jackson is the team’s all-time leading rookie wide receiver, having posted 912 yards in 2008. Smith is on track to reach 977 yards if he continues to average 57.5 yards per game. It’s worth baring in mind that the Eagles have gotten over the worst of their schedule now and the road should only get easier for Hurts and Smith to connect on those deeper passes and bring that average closer to maybe 70 yards per game.

There’s a high chance that Smith ends up becoming the team’s all-time leading rookie receiver by the end of the season, but his impact goes far beyond the numbers and when you remember how young and unpredictable this team is, it makes his showing so far even more impressive.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire