Have the Eagles finally found a slot receiver they can hang their hat on? Ainias Smith scouting report

ARLINGTON, TX – APRIL 26: The Philadelphia Eagles logo on the video board during the first round at the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles added Texas A&M’s Ainias Smith to their roster on day 3 of the NFL Draft – a move met with a lot of excitement from fans. After years of unrest at slot receiver, the Eagles look set on allowing Smith some freedom to develop over the next few years, but is he the answer to their slot wideout questions?

The Eagles needed a change over the middle

2023 was a bumpy year for the Philadelphia offense. While there were flurries of explosiveness and brilliant play, they were often mired by inconsistency and sloppy errors. While the slot position wasn’t among the largest offenders, Quez Watkins defined the term ‘inconistent’ while Olamide Zaccheaus & Julio Jones were unable to really find an extra gear.

This led the Eagles down a new path. The Quez Watkins experiment had failed, with ‘average’ no longer being good enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, and it just so happened that the Draft was filled with speedy receivers who could fill the void.

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Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (16) carries the ball against Washington Commanders safety Bobby McCain (20) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Enter Ainias Smith

Ainias Smith was the man the team ultimately landed on. The former Aggie stands at 5’9, 190 lbs, and brings a very different athletic profile to the table. His RAS score, as shown below, was super interesting.

Smith might not be the quickest receiver in the world, but his agility drills were beyond impressive, and his work at the bench would’ve certainly turned heads. That strength is reflected in his play, with Smith showcasing a real ability to maintain leverage through the stem of his routes and bring in body catches safely while absorbing contact. He also forced 20 missed tackles last season as a result of those quick cuts and explosive power

While he does have a smaller catch-radius due to his size, his ability to track the ball and adapt to misplaced passes catches the eye. Legendary NFL wideout Steve Smith Sr. noted that Ainias had the 3rd-lowest drop percentage of ANY draft-eligible wideout and that’s not surprising when you look at how easy he makes tracking the ball look.

On top of that, he’s someone that was used all over the line of scrimmage during his time at Texas A&M. Whether it was in the slot, in the backfield, or even out wide, Smith has the instincts to do it all. He also made his presence felt on special teams. Believe it or not, Ainias Smith became the first player in SEC history to record 800 career punt return yards AND record 2,000+ receiving yards.

What’s his upside with the Eagles?

With DeVonta Smith and A.J Brown alongside him, Smith is going to learn from two of the best wideouts in the league. One who excels in bursting out of cuts, and another who is simply dominant at the catch-point. You couldn’t find a better blend of player type, and personality, for the rookie to learn under.

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Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith celebrates after scoring with quarterback Jalen Hurts during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

It’s early days, but the Eagles have targeted a receiver who is a little less Porsche and a little more Range Rover. It still has all the power you need to get you where you need to go, but can be used on numerous terrains and be effective in ways the Porsche can’t.

The Eagles do have some contingency plans at slot receiver, including both DeVante Parker and Parris Campbell, but it’s hard not to love the prospect of Ainias Smith lining up alongside A.J and Smitty for years to come provided he can develop in Philadelphia.

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire