DeVonta Smith; AKA The Slim Reaper, AKA Skinny Batman, whatever you want to call him, told everyone before he ever set foot on an NFL field that a storm was coming, and more specifically “I am the storm!”
DeVonta has certainly made waves across the NFL with his acrobatic catches and pinpoint route running over the first three seasons of his NFL career, but while the league may have been impressed, he isn’t.
“Just doing my job. Coaches trust me, Jalen trusts me. They’re giving me the opportunity, I’m just going out there and making the most of it.”
And he’s been doing these types of things for a long, long time.
During his phenomenal final season at Alabama, DeVonta led the NCAA in screens, screen yards, deep catches, and deep receiving yards. He had 117 receptions, 1,856 receiving yards, and 23 receiving touchdowns.
By comparison Ja’marr Chase’s 2019 numbers: 84 receptions, 1,780 receiving yards, and 20 receiving touchdowns
DeVonta Smith also won every award, including the Heisman, but more importantly, his team was 2x SEC and National Champions. And he arrived in the NFL demanding that same success.
DeVonta Smith’s rookie season
In his impressive rookie season, Smith ranked 29th in the NFL in receptions, 45th in yards, and 40th in touchdowns, while being targeted 104 times in 17 games. The young wideout recorded the 15th-most snaps in the slot of all qualifying players but ranked 5th in yards out of the formation.
Considering the Eagles threw the ball an NFL-low 494 times in 2021 which is only 29.4 pass attempts per game, it didn’t allow for many targets per receiver. This was way too low for a WR of his caliber, but that would soon change with the emergence of a certain MVP candidate quarterback.
Despite all of that, he still managed to have two 100-yard games, averaged 14.3 yards per catch, and caught a pass in all 18 games he played in. Outstanding stats for almost any receiver, but especially a rookie.
So what did he do for an encore?
An impressive leap
DeVonta Smith’s targets went from 104 to 132 and his receptions increased from 64 to 95. The yardage total jumped to 1196 yards, good for 8th in the NFL, and his YAC (yards after catch) 485 was 7th best in the NFL. He also was 14th in the NFL with 14 receiving TDs.
And the before-mentioned route running and acrobatic hands were enhanced by a fun 15.8% juke rate, which was good for 3rd in the NFL.
Jalen Hurts benefitted from Smith’s all-world performance with a 111 QBR per target, which was 12th in the NFL. Amazing right?
So how is DeVonta Smith the forgotten man by most of the National Media?
For starters, he doesn’t seek attention. He also has a teammate who went 6 straight weeks with over 125 receiving yards per game. But don’t get it twisted, Smitty is still a WR1.
Becoming the Slim Reaper
DeVonta Smith started off the year hot. After the first 2 weeks, he had 11 catches for 178 yards and 2 TDs. When the Eagles blew out the Bucs in week 3, their running game was unstoppable and Smith only had 28 yards. Two weeks later he only had 1 catch for 6 yards, then he had the game that would prove to be the one that turned everything around.
DeVonta, uncharacteristically, had 2 drops versus the Jets. The Eagles lost, and Smith could have easily avoided the media, except he didn’t. And since then, he has caught the damn ball with a 90% catch rate.
Smitty has not had the volume of targets he did last season, but he is making the most of the ones he’s had.
With teams showing AJ Brown more attention due to his historic 6 game run, Smith had become the forgotten man to opposing defenses.
He shouldn’t have been.
Over the last 4 games, during what most called the start of ‘an impossible gauntlet’, DeVonta Smith has played his best ball of the season. He has 23 receptions good for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He is on pace to match last year’s totals despite being targeted less, and the Eagles having more weapons in the pass game. Smith just continues to go about his business, and his routines while being humble and productive.
DeVonta Smith shines a spotlight on everyone but himself
Last year, Smitty stated that he did set season goals for himself. His desire to be great and his relentless work ethic make little doubt that those personal goals, whatever they are, will be met.
His preparation is legendary, and he makes the same types of plays in practice at the Nova Care Complex as he does on Sundays.
But make no mistake, the biggest goal is the one he shares with his teammates. It is being a part of a team that is holding a Lombardi trophy in February. Coming up short last year has only added fuel to the fire.
In short, that is what makes DeVonta, and so many other current Eagles so special. They don’t just want to win, they demand it. From themselves, and from one another.
They want the coaches and fans to as well. He is not afraid of disappointing, because it isn’t an option.
Sunday vs Bills:
DeVonta Smith had 6 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown, during the Eagles epic come-from-behind overtime win in the wind and the rain, proving that bad weather was not going to slow him down.
And nobody should have been surprised.
As always, thank you for reading.
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AP Photo/Matt Slocum