Nick Sirianni was effusive in his praise for the “beautiful” corner route Devonta Smith ran on 3rd-and-8 on the Eagles’ opening drive to keep the Eagles on the field and help them punch in the game’s first touchdown.
But Jalen Hurts really summed it up.
“He ran a great route, he got open,” Hurts said. “He’s elite.”
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Yeah, well, Smith does a lot of that.
And even though he’s been overshadowed for much of the season after the offseason addition of A.J. Brown, Smith is still playing at an extremely high level, he’s still getting better, and he’s still a No. 1 receiver. It’s just that with Brown on the team, he doesn’t always have to be.
In Sunday’s 35-10 win over the Titans, Brown grabbed headlines with his 119-yard, 2-touchdown performance against his former team. But Smith’s performance shouldn’t be overlooked. He had 5 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown of his own. And on the Eagles’ opening drive, Smith had 3 for 59 and the game’s first score.
It would be easy to look at the Eagles offense and sometimes forget about Smith. But last year’s first-round pick has played well all season. And, yes, he’s still developing. And, yes, he’s better in Year 2.
Even with Brown’s presence and impressive pace, Smith still has 61 catches for 711 yards and 4 touchdowns through 12 games and is on pace to hit 1,000 yards on the season. You’d have to imagine if the Eagles hadn’t signed Brown, Smith would still be the No. 1 target and would be ready to smash that 1,000-yard barrier.
As it is, he’s still on pace for 86 catches, 1,007 yards and 6 touchdowns.
His 711 yards so far are still really impressive. In fact, there are 16 teams in the NFL that don’t have a receiver with more. Make no mistake about it, Smith would be a No. 1 receiver on plenty of teams in the NFL.
“DeVonta has been great,” Brown said. “I feel like he’s been great all year with the route running and after the catch. It just meant a lot today. Both of us were on the same page and we went out and handled business today.”
When the Eagles traded up and drafted Smith with the No. 10 overall pick last year, we already knew how polished he was as a receiver. He was about as NFL-ready as you’ll see a college prospect and he was already known for his route running, body control and more. Because of that polish, it might not be as easy to follow his development in Year 2. But it’s there.
All those things Smith was already good at? He’s getting better in those areas this season.
“DeVonta is so naturally skilled at the position and so fundamentally sound and so savvy with just how to run routes. He's just gaining more knowledge on that,” Sirianni said. “I wouldn't say when he came in here that he had a weakness because he just did so many things so well.
“He's just getting better at doing things that he does so well, and he just keeps getting better at it. I do feel like he's just got this tremendous feel in zone coverages to where to sit in the holes and where to see the holes.”
Hurts has a unique perspective on Smith’s development because he was teammates with him at Alabama years ago before they reunited in Philly last season.
The starting quarterback sees that growth too.
“We all grow from experience,” Hurts said. “I think experience is the biggest teacher and he’s grown from stuff in college, he’s grown from experiences of being a rookie last year, practice all of these things so I think his game has been taken to another level.”
The one area where Sirianni really pointed out that growth is from Smith’s reps in the slot. In fact, his impressive 3rd-down route, the one Sirianni raved about Sunday night, came from that position.
Last season, Smith operated out of the slot on 10.7% of his offensive snaps according to ProFootballFocus. This year, that’s up to 20.1% through 12 games.
“He’s a phenomenal outside receiver who has this feel to be able to go inside and just have a feel for inside because it's a lot different inside,” Sirianni said. “Outside you have to do a couple things. You have to beat the guy and you have to beat the leverages, you have to identify different coverages but inside you've got to feel everything. There are more guys in there to feel around and so he has a good feel for that because he has such good football IQ.
“So DeVonta, I just see him continue to grow there. I really feel like, the guy I had like this was Keenan Allen where he was able to go inside, outside and really change the game both from the slot and from the outside.”
Anytime Sirianni compares someone to Allen, that’s high praise. Allen was a 3rd-round rookie in Sirianni’s first season with the Chargers in 2013 and was a Pro Bowler before Sirianni left. Allen went to the last five Pro Bowls, utilizing his ability to win inside and out.
We’re seeing that now from Smith, who sometimes gets overlooked in the Eagles offense. But he really shouldn’t.
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