Breaking down Philadelphia Eagles depth chart: offensive edition

Will Jalen Hurts shine this season?

By: Jacob Keppen

There are a ton of questions about the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021, specifically on offense. What we will see from Philly’s new-look offense in 2021 is largely unproven. There is talent and highly selected players, but at most positions, there is little in the way of known commodities. From the center snapping the ball to the man throwing the ball, here is a breakdown of the position units for the Philadelphia Eagles on offense.

Quarterback: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew

The big question at quarterback is of course Jalen Hurts. The Eagles can only go as far as Jalen Hurts can take them in 2020. Last year’s second-round selection, Hurts showed good flashes in his four games as a starter, including a three-yard touchdown performance against Arizona in Week 15. One of the least accurate quarterbacks last season was still Hurts. Can Hurts fully round out his game and become a franchise quarterback? Or will the Eagles be searching for quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft? If Hurts doesn’t shine and the Eagles, unfortunately, have a high draft choice next year, it wouldn’t be hard to know which position they’re selecting in round one. 

As for the backups heading into the season, Joe Flacco is what he is at the age of 36 and shouldn’t be counted on to come in and win games for the Eagles. He’s a pure mentor for Hurts and a reliable QB to take care of the football in emergency situations. Then there is Minshew Mania. Minshew shows intrigue though as a potential long term high end backup quarterback for the Eagles. Minshew is one of the best backup QBs in the league and still young at 25. We saw Winston go into New Orleans as a young backup and eventually become the starter. If Hurts doesn’t pan out soon, Minshew may see the field in the near future. 

Running Back: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell 

The Eagles went light at the running back position, surprising virtually everyone. This was a team that almost had too many running backs in the preseason, expected to struggle to only keep four in the regular season. Jordan Howard and Jason Huntley were both cut, making their way to the practice squad (don’t be surprised when Jordan Howard ends up on the main roster once again)

Which Miles Sanders will the Eagles be getting this season? Sanders didn’t quite look the same in 2020 as he did in his freshman year, struggling in the receiving game mightily. Sanders still has big-play potential, able to break off a run at will. Behind him is Boston Scott, a very competent 3rd down back who can step in a pinch. Scott is coming off a career year in scrimmage yards (586). Rookie Kenny Gainwell impressed in the preseason with the highest PFF rookie grade on the Eagles and one of the highest in the league. He very might challenge for a lot of touches in the Eagles offense. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles get Gainwell involved in the offense in multiple ways. The real thing missing in the Eagles backfield is a real power presence. Maybe it will be Jordan Howard, but for now, the Eagles lack a bit of bite in their rushing attack.

Wide Receiver: Devonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

The Eagles wide receiver room is not a great one, nor is it a proven one. While there is potential, there are two first-round receivers in the room, nobody is proven here. Devonta Smith should easily be the best pass-catcher on the Eagles offense, potentially able to be a true #1 receiver for Philadelphia. You’d still like someone a little more proven alongside him though.

Jalen Reagor has potential but didn’t quite live up to the hype last season. While he has looked good in practice he needs to prove it in a game first. Quez Watkins was a breakout star in the preseason, his lightning speed unmatched early on in the Eagles offense. Can the former 6th round pick carve out a big role in the offense, or is it just a product of the preseason. Ward is who he is, a reliable set of hands who doesn’t really do anything dynamic. Arcega-Whiteside is the puzzling name left, most fans surprised (and upset) to see him still on the team for his third season. Despite having an even worse sophomore campaign, Arcega-Whiteside managed to make the roster over Travis Fulgham, a free agent acquisition who showed real potential last year. Is this the year J.J. Arcega-Whiteside does ANYTHING for the Eagles?

Tight End: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jack Stoll

As it has been over the past few years, the Eagles have one of the best tight-end groups in the entire league. Dallas Goedert is a player many are pegging as a breakout candidate in 2021, his flashes over the past three seasons finally culminating into true stardom. He’ll still have to compete with fan-favorite Zach Ertz who is back, contract situation is resolved. For a team hard-pressed to find any reliable receivers, bringing back Zach Ertz was a great decision for the Birds, his consistency was a great asset to such a young offense.

Offensive Line: Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Nate Herbig, Brett Toth.

If everything works out and everyone stays healthy, the Eagles should have one of the best lines in the league. Injuries have played the biggest problem over the past year, the Eagles unable to field a consistent unit upfront. The stars are back, with pro bowl center Jason Kelce returning for another season in Philadelphia. Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks look to continue to hold down the right side of the line, both amongst the league’s best when fully fit. The problem is health has definitely been an issue, with Brooks returning from his second Achilles tear. With both, over 30 health could potentially ruin a dynamic partnership.

On the left side of the line, it is finally Jordan Mailata time! Jason Peters is not here to take the job away from him anymore, and former first-round pick Andre Dillard was unable to take the job away from him in the preseason. Mailata is a giant amongst giants, towering over even the biggest defensive linemen. He has made incredible strides over the past few years, and really has the potential to be a franchise tackle for the Eagles. Always seemingly forgotten, Isaac Seumalo is certainly one of the better options at guard. While not a superstar like some of his compatriots, Seumalo gets the job done and is at worst a serviceable average guard in the NFL. Look for Philly to dominate upfront in easily their best unit on the offense… again so long as they can stay healthy.

Expect the Lions, Eagles, and Texans to have the worst records in 2021

The worst NFL teams in 2021 will be…

By: Andy Davies

Plenty of uncertainty surrounds the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and Houston Texans going into the 2021 season. Their quarterback situations are far from clear and their overall rosters are mediocre at best.

The same goes for their head coaches, with all three going into their first seasons at the franchise. Neither of Dan Campbell, Nick Sirianni, or David Culley has been a full-time head coach in the NFL. Campbell is the only one to have some experience, with his spell as interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2015.

Here is why you should be expecting the Lions, Eagles, and Texans to have the three worst records in the league in 2021.

Saying Goodbye To A Franchise Legend In Detroit. Struggles For The Replacement

Matthew Stafford was the number one overall pick in 2009, with the entire city of Detroit hoping he would be the man to turn around the fortunes of the franchise. Despite three seasons of making the playoffs, the Lions and Stafford never won a single postseason game as the wait continues. The Lions remain the team with the second-longest period without a playoff win, their last taking place on January 5th, 1992.

Stafford had some great individual moments as a Lion, most notably his Mic’d up moment during his 2009 rookie season. In a week eleven game against the Cleveland Browns, he overcame injury to produce a moment of pure heroism. He played with a separated shoulder despite the efforts of the medical staff to keep him off the field, leading the Lions to a touchdown-winning drive.

Jim Caldwell guided the Lions to these playoff appearances but was not seen as good enough to take them to the next step. New England Patriots assistant head coach Matt Patricia was brought in but never took to life as head coach. The Lions had three consecutive losing seasons under the coaching of Patricia. They will hope that they have found their guy in Dan Campbell. His press conference was certainly not dull, with Campbell referring to “biting kneecaps”. As a former Lions player, he knows what it takes to play in the league. He also knows about the city of Detroit and his intentions are both positive and clear. If he is given time, he has the desire to bring the good times back to Detroit. However, he is inexperienced as a head coach and the roster is below average.

New quarterback Jared Goff has the potential to struggle. This is despite the drafting of offensive lineman Penei Sewell at seventh overall, a selection that had Campbell and new General Manager Brad Holmes very excited.

Despite his brilliant 2018 season that saw the Rams reach Super Bowl 53, Goff had a poor game and struggled in 2020 as he and head coach Sean McVay’s relationship deteriorated.

Goff struggled despite a plethora of offensive talent around him. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp form one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL. He is going to a franchise that let go of their two best wide receivers and failed to replace them.

The Lions have a schedule that features the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, and Cleveland Browns. There are also two games against their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears. The Lions do not have it easy.

Prediction: 3-14

Trouble In Philadelphia; Reason For Hope?

The Eagles have seen three years of gradual decline after winning Super Bowl 52. The 2017 season saw the Eagles lift the Lombardi Trophy for the first time after two previous attempts.

Doug Pederson was the head coach to guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl but was fired after the conclusion of the 2020 season. His decision to bench rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts in order to lose and gain a higher draft pick appeared to be the final nail in the coffin.

Carson Wentz had an MVP caliber season before an injury derailed hopes of winning the award. Backup Nick Foles stepped in and guided the Eagles to the Super Bowl 52 win. He also stepped in a year later and guided the Eagles to a shock Wildcard Round win against the Chicago Bears, with thanks also going to a Cody Parkey missed field goal.

Both Foles and Wentz are no longer Eagles players. Out of the starters in that Super Bowl 52 win, only seven remain with the franchise. Their decision to draft Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson continues to be mocked by rival fans and nobody knows how new head coach Nick Sirianni will do in the role.

The schedule is mixed for Philadelphia. Whilst they face the New York Jets, Lions, and twice play the New York Giants, they also have to face the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.. This is as well as facing a rising Washington Football Team twice as well as playing the Dallas Cowboys both home and away.

Reports have surfaced in recent days of the Philadelphia Eagles being the favourites for Deshaun, with talks said to be “heating up”.

This could be a move that transforms the franchise. However, Deshaun Watson had his best statistical season yet the Texans only managed four wins all year. This proves that whilst it is very important to have a good quarterback, you need more around to be successful.

Unless the Eagles do something in what remains of the offseason, they will continue to be mediocre if their roster continues to be this poor. If they get offensive or defensive talent in the next one or two offseasons, then they are a team that will compete for years to come. Otherwise, the Eagles will fail to be a threat to both the NFC and NFC East.

This is why Deshaun should avoid the Eagles at this present time. He will be going into a situation no different to what he experienced in Houston.

Prediction: 4-13

What A Difference A Year Makes

Where do we start with the Houston Texans? The 2019 season saw them take a 24-0 lead against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round. However, they allowed 41 unanswered points as they lost 51-31. What has unfolded since in the following nineteen months has been reminiscent of a Greek tragedy.

Head coach Bill O’Brien, who also was general manager, made the unusual decision to trade star wide receiver, Deandre Hopkins. In exchange, the Texans received a running back past his sell-by date in David Johnson, one second-rounder and one fourth-round pick. O’Brien only lasted four games in the 2020 season as they finished the campaign with just four wins.

Since the conclusion of the 2020 season, franchise legend J.J Watt has left and there continues to be an uncertain future surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson. Houston’s quarterback requested a trade in January before allegations of sexual assault arose. These have lingered throughout the remainder of the offseason. It is unclear if Watson will play in the NFL at all in 2021 but even if he does, it is unlikely that he will be wearing a Texans jersey.

Houston has said they would listen to trade offers for Watson, with the franchise said to be wanting three first-round picks. They have also acquired Tyrod Taylor via Free Agency and used their first pick in the draft on Davis Mills in the third round. Even if the Eagles stick with Hurts, there will be plenty of other suitors.

Even with Watson, the Texans are light on the ground when it comes to elite talent. Linebacker Zach Cunningham and Laremy Tunsil are talents and despite adding Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram to the running back room, the roster is one of the league’s worst.

David Culley has developed somewhat of a worrying reputation after his time with the Eagles, Chiefs, and Baltimore Ravens. During his fourteen-season spell with the Eagles, his four seasons with the Chiefs, and two years with the Ravens, he had 0 wide receivers earn a PFF grade of 80 or above.

The Chiefs wideouts went an entire season without a touchdown under Culley. With a wide receiver room featuring Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins and Anthony Miller, this is not exactly a position of strength for the Texans. Culley is unlikely to see any of these receivers score high PFF grades.

Whilst the Texans might be playing the Jacksonville Jaguars twice and the Jets, they have a tough schedule. They will face the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks. Houston will also play the Los Angeles Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers as well as the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans twice.

They are unlikely to win many of these games. Fans should be expecting a difficult season.

Prediction: 2-15

Projecting the success for the Eagles WR duo

Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith 2021 outlook

By Jesse Moeller (Twitter: JMoeller05)

For the second consecutive season, the Eagles have drafted a Wide Receiver in the first round of the NFL draft. Last year, the Eagles took Jaelon Reagor out of TCU. The Eagles then followed it up this season, drafting Devonta Smith out of Alabama. Let us look at these two and see if they can form the perfect partnership for the 2021 season and beyond.

Batman – DeVonta Smith

Four things the @Eagles are getting in @DeVontaSmith_6

🦅 Route running
🦅 Vertical speed
🦅 Soft hands
🦅 YAC on YAC on YAC

In steps, the Slim Reaper (best nickname in the NFL) coming off one of the greatest college football seasons ever. Devonta put up video game numbers to the tune of 1.856 yards and 23 touchdowns on 117 receptions in 13 games. He went back to college for his senior year after dominating as a junior in 2019 while participating with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Jalen Waddle. According to the NFL, it proved to be the correct decision as they rewarded Smith with a top 10 pick.

He is the definition of Batman. No matter what you tried to do, you could not stop him, as he continually presents problems for defenses. My jaw dropped countless times watching Smith cook opposing defenders. He is a craftsman who uses his long slight frame to offer various ways to win. He is a 6’1″ unicorn in the NFL with a wingspan the same as Collin Johnson, who is 6’6″.

While many people are worried about his weight, it is not something that should bother you. Smith has the required height and skill at the position to win against the best NFL cornerbacks consistently. He has a remarkable ability to control his body, creating angles with his frame that is flat-out unguardable.

While we would like Smith to be heavier, the lack of weight allows him to explode in and out of breaks that give him an edge at the position. He is my number two rookie wide receiver who will make sweet, sweet music with Jalen Hurts this year.

Here are my projections for Smith:
80 receptions for 1037 yards and eight touchdowns on a 21% Target Share. That equals 232 PPR fantasy points.

Robin – Jalen Reagor 

Loved the nugget from @TheAudible on Jalen Reagor.

Injuries forced TCU to use him as a vertical threat, the Eagles followed suit.

He excels underneath, action the Colts used frequently with Pittman and Campbell. He could be a sneaky ppr monster.

https://t.co/ZwG8xiKPND

Originally tweeted by Jeff Bell (@4WhomJBellTolls) on May 23, 2021.

Reagor season was considered a bust by many. He suffered through injuries, as he dealt with many injuries his rookie season that cost him almost the entire first half of his rookie season. After Reagor returned in week eight, he managed to put 300 yards in those remaining nine games. That averages out to a measly 33 yards per game on 2.9 targets per game. Even if Reagor were healthy and played an entire year, we would be looking at 533 yards and 46 reception for the season. 

There are not too many positives to take from his rookie season. It was never a good sign when both your 57.5% catch rate and 7.3 Yards Per Target were among the worst amongst wide receivers last year. Reagor’s inefficiency was by no means strictly on him, as Wentz was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL last season. Next-Gen Stats has Wentz 40th in Passer Rating (72.8), 40th in Completion Percentage Above Expected (-4.8), 34th in Average Air Yards Differential (-2.8), and 6th in Time to Throw (2.91). What do these stats say to you? For me, they paint a picture of how abysmal Wentz was, add in the injuries, and we can chalk 2020 up to a lost season for the young wideout.

Fast forward to this offseason, and we received two critical bits of news for Reagor’s dynasty outlook. The first is that Reagor is moving to the slot. A role suited for him to succeed. His two prized assets coming out are the ability to accelerate and change direction in college. Watch Reagor’s TCU tape, and you routinely see a player playing in another gear. Moving him inside gives Reagor more space to work with, where he will routinely leave defenders in the dust.

The second bit of news is something we all know. Jalen Hurts taking over as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. Watching Wentz struggle game in and game out in such a winnable division showed how lost he was in Philadelphia. Giving the reigns to Hurts allows Reagor to develop his game alongside the quarterback of the future.

Here are my 2021 Projections for Reagor:
67 receptions for 767 yards and five touchdowns on 18% Target Share. Good enough for 173.5 PPR fantasy points.

While the Eagles have frequently whiffed drafting wide receivers this last decade, I believe the Eagles have finally found their Batman and Robin.

Could Joe Flacco really start for the Eagles?

Is Flacco the answer for the Eagles QB position?

By: Pat Pitts

The Eagles decided to put all of their eggs in the Hurts basket by trading away Carson Wentz. The second-rounder takes the reigns leading this offense back to Super Bowl contention, or not?

Joe Flacco agreed to a one year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. It is understood that he will back up and mentor Jalen Hurts to close his career. However, the Eagles have been use to a QB carousel over the past few seasons. Is it possible we are graced by the presence of Joe “Elite” Flacco?

Allow me.

Can Joe Flacco replicate his 2012 playff performance this season?

In 2012, Joe Flacco entertained football fans with one of the greatest postseason performances in history. He threw 77 passes for 1140 yards and 11 touchdowns; he did not throw a single interception. Hoisting the Lombardi to conclude the dominance only seemed fitting. 

He signed an extension making him the highest player in the league a few months later. Joe Flacco became the talk of the sports realm. 

Flacco’s contract gave analysts a copious amount of time to compare him to guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and his holiness, Tom Brady. But his play was comparable to that of Sam Bradford and Brock Oswieler. 

Joe Flacco derailed the Baltimore train beginning in 2013 when he snapped the team’s playoff streak for the first time since 2007. It snowballed into more missed playoff appearances, the first time in consecutive seasons since 2004-05. He may be elite, but not clutch. 

Since his time in Baltimore, Flacco has bounced from the team hoping to have one last chance. It has not worked out so well. Things are different in Philadelphia. 

How possible is it for Flacco to start this season?

A hall of fame athlete once told the world anything is possible. Yes, even Flacco taking snaps. 

I believe in Jalen Hurts. I believe he can take over this offense, eventually leading the charge when battling in the playoffs. Hurts received some brotherly love from the front office when they selected him sixth overall in the draft. Miles Sanders saw an increase in total yards from a year prior. Things are looking up. 

The only scenario for Flacco to make an appearance of even start is Jalen being hurt. The coaching staff cannot be fickle about the decision. Dive in headfirst, Nick. 

Flacco’s impact will be off the field. Whether it is the film room or the sidelines, Flacco will be in the sophomore’s ear after every bad throw. He will sit with him on the bench to review the playbook. He will be the teacher; Hurts must take the role as the student. 

Joe Flacco has floated around the NFL for over a decade. He joins the crew of Newton, Rodgers and Stafford as the old-timers. The guys who have seen and done it all, but cannot hang it up. The hope for another shot dwindles down day by day.

Flacco does deserve one more chance for glory but Hurts deserves it a bit more.

STOP the hate for Heisman winner DeVonta Smith

Former Heisman winner DeVonta Smith is the real deal

By: Brady Atkins

January 8, 2018. The day when the legend of Devonta Smith was born, hurtling through the universe on a ball of fire and spectacularly crashing through the roof of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a moment that would send ripples through the football landscape.

A second and 26 overtime prayer turned national championship highlight would create legacies. On one play, a deep-ball dime caught in stride at the goal line, the Alabama Crimson Tide were able to topple their newest challenger to their never-ending dynasty, the Georgia Bulldogs, and in comeback fashion no less. They were able to reassert themselves as the unquestioned rulers of college football.

In doing so, a freshman Tua Tagovailoa worked his way into the hearts of Crimson Tide fans across the state of Alabama, and into the minds of NFL scouts across the country, going from Jalen Hurts’ promising young backup to a championship-winning star quarterback in a moments notice. For Hurts, this game would redefine his legacy as well, getting benched in favor of Tagovailoa in 2018, only to rewrite the script by transferring to the Oklahoma Sooners in 2019, leading to a second-place finish for the Heisman trophy, as well as a second-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.

But for all the legacy-altering ramifications set in motion from just one play, perhaps none were greater than what happened for Devonta Smith, the man who ended up catching that game-winning pass. If you didn’t notice the scrawny Crimson Tide backup in his eight-catch freshman season before that play, you certainly did now. And Smith would spend the next three years of his college career making sure you remembered.

Just a few season’s time would see that scrawny Alabama backup turn into the scrawny Alabama superstar, one that used the momentum of his freshman moment in the spotlight to turn into college football’s best player. Smith’s senior season in 2020 ended with a Heisman trophy after a Herculean effort with the Crimson Tide. His 23 touchdown catches were an FBS high, his 117 receptions were an FBS high by more than 30, and his 1,856 receiving yards were an FBS high by more than 600. He was a runaway for college football’s most prestigious individual award, and became the first wide receiver to be named a Heisman winner since 1991.

Nearly three decades separate Smith’s accomplishment from his last counterpart, Michigan’s Desmond Howard. He got there through unparalleled production from an unrivaled skillset. And yet, Smith wasn’t the first player taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. He wasn’t the first pass-catcher off the board, nor the first receiver. Smith wasn’t even the first receiver taken from his own college team. That honor goes to Jaylen Waddle, picked sixth by the Miami Dolphins to Smith’s 10th overall selection by the Philadelphia Eagles.

College production isn’t necessarily a determiner of success in the NFL– but skillset has never been the question regarding Smith. Four years of college tape shows just how explosive he is off the line of scrimmage, how polished a route runner he is, how he combines the best elements of a burner who can take the top off a defense and a possession receiver that can catch every pass in his area. Smith’s talent is not why three pass catchers went before him. If skill were the only factor, Smith’s resume would be untouchable. 

Rather, it was size that kept Smith from going to any of the nine teams picking before he was selected. Devonta Smith weighed in at 166 lbs. at the Medical Combine, well below the 203 lbs. average weight of the NFL receiver. As Smith was examined further under the unbelievably-scrutinizing lens of the NFL Draft, questions of his durability at the pro level began to form. Some NFL teams began to wonder whether or not Smith’s talent was worth rolling the dice on with concerns about his durability beginning to control the narrative.

Some NFL teams need to stop overthinking Devonta Smith.

What Devonta Smith does well

When the Eagles traded up to draft Devonta Smith, they brought a man who does it all to Philadelphia to fill a desperate team need. After their previous four draft classes saw the franchise select a total of five wide receivers, two of which were picked in the first two rounds of their respective classes, the Eagles are hoping that Smith provides better luck than that group of five that has combined for a total of just 88 catches and 1,274 yards for the franchise.

For comparison, Justin Jefferson, who was selected one pick after the Eagles drafted a first-round receiver in 2020, finished his rookie season with 88 catches and 1,400 yards of his own. But with Devonta Smith, the Eagles won’t be adding just another developmental player with one defining trait. Rather, drafting Smith will give Philadelphia a receiver who used a variety of elite skills to dominate college football in 2020.

Coming into the 2021 NFL Draft, Smith was leaving behind a legacy with the Alabama Crimson tide unrivaled by anyone before him. His 235 career receptions, 3,965 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns were all good enough for first place on the all-time Alabama leaderboards, a school that saw receiving talents like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Amari Cooper, and Julio Jones all take the field before him. 

What led to Smith catapulting above the NFL first-round picks before him was a playing style that emulates the best traits from each of those players. What defined Jerry Jeudy and Amari Cooper coming out of college was their elite route-running ability, which Smith has shown plenty of through his four college years.

It’s not the highlight-reel cuts or ankle-breaking moves that make Smith such a nightmare to stick with in coverage, but rather, it’s the general mastery of the craft that the receiver possesses, showing it in the subtlety of his movement and the ease of his release off the line of scrimmage. Time after time, and particularly as a senior, Smith showed an ability to beat defenders with quick-moving feet, an immediate release into the route, and the subtle art of eye contact, staring his defenders down rather than turning his head where the route was going to progress, not cluing them in on where he was going next.

Henry Ruggs’ unmistakable trait in college was his track-star speed. At the 2020 NFL Combine, Ruggs ran a 4.27 second 40-yard dash, the fastest time of anyone that year, tied for the sixth-fastest time in the history of the event. And, no, Smith does not have 4.2 speed. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t play faster than just about anyone on the field.

When Smith wasn’t beating cornerbacks with his refined route-running talent, he could be found blowing directly past them with straight-line speed. The quickness of Smith shows in how the Crimson Tide featured him on offense as well. In the 2020 National Championship against Ohio State, five of Smith’s 12 first-half catches came on screen passes behind the line of scrimmage. Three of those five were for first downs, two of which were gains over 10 yards, while the other two resulted in goal line touchdowns.

It was a similar story in the College Football Playoff game before the match against Ohio State. Two of Smith’s seven Rose Bowl catches against Notre Dame were caught behind the line and turned into gains over 20 yards, one of which went for a touchdown. 

Of course, with three Alabama offensive linemen being taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide made a habit of impeccable blocking– but Smith’s dominance on quick catch-and-run passes was more than simply Alex Leatherwood and Deonte Brown mowing defenders down. This was the Alabama offense recognizing that Smith, with a head of steam and the ball in his hands, is a big play waiting to happen.

Cooper and Jeudy were route-running specialists, Ruggs was a speed guy, but the book Julio Jones in college was that he was a guy that did just about everything well. You could say the same for Devonta Smith as well.

Smith is a speedy guy with the hands of an elite possession receiver. Time and time again with the Alabama offense, Smith could be seen making acrobatic, contested catches, with two hands or one, being a safety valve to the level where you would be hard-pressed to find a drop on his film.

Smith is an elite college route runner with the sideline awareness to match. What made those acrobatic catches even more special is that oftentimes they came at the boundary of the field. In 2020 especially, Smith displayed an ability to track down the ball, reel it in through contact and coverage, and get a foot (sometimes even two) down in bounds. 

Smith is everything you could daydream about in a receiver prospect. His raw traits are among the best in the class, but his understanding of the game and refined style of play is what sets him apart. There is, however, one thing about Smith that draws red flags.

Size, Durability, and the Randomness of Injury

Devonta Smith is tiny. 

It’s a positive when you can come in as a prospect with just one defined weakness, but when that weakness is in your ability to stay on the field, it could mean that all the talent you possess in other aspects of the game are wasted in the medical tent.

So when Smith came in below 170 lbs, it became a talking point, and a concern for some NFL franchises. For as undeniably gifted as Smith is, football is an unforgivably brutal sport. Can Smith’s physical build allow him to stay on the field for the Eagles?

Well, yeah. 

Injury concerns are real, but they haven’t been present in Smith’s career up to this point. In fact, in four seasons with the Crimson Tide, Smith had missed just two games with an injury— and hasn’t missed a game since 2018.

The NFL is a more physical league than college, where only the biggest, fastest, and strongest are selected to play, but Smith has been playing against future NFL defenders since he first got to Alabama. Against South Carolina, Smith was forced to line up against Jaycee Horn, who was selected two picks before Smith in 2021. 

He’s faced Noah Igbinoghene from Auburn, Tyson Campbell from Georgia, Shaun Wade from Ohio State, all of whom now play on NFL rosters. He’s spent his entire college career in the SEC, a conference that has produced 21 first-round defensive draft picks over the last four seasons. And nearly every time one of those players hit Smith, he popped right back up, ready for the next down.

Being a bigger receiver does not make you immune to injuries. Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and Davante Adams, three stars all over the average weight of 203 lbs. for NFL receivers, all missed multiple games in 2020 due to injury, while receivers below the weight line like Brandin Cooks and Emmanuel Sanders played healthy in the 2020 season.

Of course, both Sanders and Cooks have a prior history of injury. But the issues suffered by Jones and Thomas illustrate an important point– that the injury bug can come for anyone, regardless of size. In fact, it struck Devonta Smith’s teammate and the sixth overall pick in 2021, Jaylen Waddle, who missed eight games on the year due to a high ankle sprain and fracture.

Staying away from a player as talented as Smith because of an injury history can be risky. Staying away from him for an injury history that doesn’t exist, in a sport where injuries strike random players at random times to begin with, well, that’s just football negligence. 

The Safest Pick in the Draft

Devonta Smith is seen as a gamble. A high-risk, high-reward player that can either be the best player on the field or the best player watching in street clothes from the sideline. At least, that’s the perception.

But maybe Devonta Smith shouldn’t be viewed as a gamble at all. Maybe the most talented player in college football, a reigning national champion, a record-breaker, a Heisman-winner, shouldn’t be viewed as the Draft’s biggest gamble, but rather, the Draft’s safest pick.

He has the raw talent to fit into an NFL roster from Day One, and be the best player immediately on a depleted Eagles’ wide receiver depth chart. He has the refined skill and football knowledge to build on that talent as well. Devonta Smith has everything he needs to blossom into one of the best young receivers in the game, all in a slender body that hasn’t sustained a serious midseason injury in over two seasons.

Maybe one day we’ll stop overthinking talent when we see it. Maybe one day we’ll stop overthinking Devonta Smith.

Devonta Smith can revitalize the Eagles offense

By: Pat Pitts

Devnta Smith is an Eagle. How high will he fly?

The Philadelphia Eagles have not had the most success at the wide receiver position over the past few years. On Thursday night, they made a deal with the Devil down in Dallas to erase 2020’s mistake. 

The Eagles selected 2020’s Heisman winner Devonta Smith with the 10th overall pick. The pick itself was not a shock, but the Eagles following through with it was. Jalen Hurts does not just gain a receiver, but an old teammate. Chemistry does not completely disappear. 

There has been a lot of discussions around if Smith is “NFL ready” based on his measurements. At Alabama’s Pro Day, Smith weighed in at 170 lbs and measured to be six foot flat. Not the biggest kid on the playground. 

Even with being undersized, Devonta Smith fits into the Eagles offense with his route running and his versatility. 

How can Devanta Smith be the answer Eagles fans crave?

The Eagles were an offensive disaster in 2020. Between the QB controversy and lack of pass-catchers made it pretty impossible for the Eagles to produce. Wentz is gone; Hurts is in. It is a new era in Philly. 

The lack of receivers may not have been the problem. When Jalen Hurts stepped in against the New Orleans Saints, He rushed for 100+ yards, breaking a Saints record too, and proceeded to throw for 300+ yards in back-to-back games. 

Wentz did not throw for more than 242 yards in 2020. It was time for a change. 

Hurts brings explosiveness to the Eagles offense. With his style of play, he needs a reliable asset lining up next to him. Please welcome, Devanta Smith.

Devanta Smith steps into an offense that fits his style of play extremely well. Smith has one of the best route trees out of all pass catchers in the 2021 NFL Draft class. His route tree makes Hurts life a lot easier. 

Smith ran a lot of drag routes in Alabama’s offense. These routes allow the QB to dump the ball quickly if being rushed. Hurts needs a safety blanket like Smith in 2021. 

He can execute short routes well, but what about deep ones? Not a problem. 

Smith’s breakaway speed gave him a lot of space between the defender and him. He displayed his speed with his swift feet. His footwork puts defenders on skates as he passes by them with ease. 

Smith’s separation allows Hurts to air the ball out with more confidence than a year prior. In his few starts, he averaged 7.4 yards/attempt. He is not dumping it every down. He’s looking for the open receiver downfield—a different mentality than the last guy. 

Smith’s versatility acts as another reason he fits the Eagles scheme so well. He can be utilized in all types of plays. 

Jalen Hurts is not afraid to utilize the run to move the ball downfield. Hurts ability to scramble away from defenders and execute RPO’s allows Smith to thrive in the offense. 

Also, Nick Sirianni, Eagles head coach, comes from a run-heavy offense in Indy. He worked with Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, and Nyheim Hines, who have all had break-out seasons since 2019. The Eagles have a plethora of running backs for Sirianni to replicate in 2021. 

The Eagles using Smith in run plays is already an improvement from a year ago. They are capitalizing on a player’s strengths to mold the offense around him and a few others. 

Smith is the difference-maker Philadelphia needed. It is Jalen Hurt’s offense. The future of the WR core shines bright with Reagor paired alongside Smith. 

2020 was the year of losing. 2021 begins the uphill journey back to the top of the mountain. Devonta Smith needs to lead this charge unless it is back to square one for Howie.

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