From the moment DeVonta Smith entered the NFL as the No. 10 overall pick in 2021, Darius Slay has been his biggest fan.
That’s why it wasn’t much of a surprise to hear what Slay said about Smith last week:
“He got all the tools,” Slay said. “I told him, ‘You know, it ain't going to be too much longer we're going to be saying Smitty the best receiver in the league,’ for sure. It ain't gonna be too much longer.”
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If anyone understands how good Smith is or how much potential he still has, it’s Slay. The two face off daily at practice and have been now going on three seasons.
Smith was pretty quiet when he first got to Philly and Slay was one of the guys who helped him get out of his shell. That relationship has continued to blossom during their time together.
Slay is 8 years older than Smith and plays a different position on the other side of the ball, but the two have become close.
“It means a lot to me,” Smith said. “Slay from Day 1 has been, I would say, a mentor for me. When I’m out there, any little thing that I’m doing, any little tells that I’m giving, he’s telling me. He’s been like a big brother to me since Day 1 and somebody that I truly appreciate everything he does to help me elevate my game.”
There are plenty of mentor-mentee relationships in the NFL. But this one is unique because it crosses sides of the football. Normally, you hear about an older player at the same position taking a player under his wing. This is a little different.
And Smith realizes how unique that is.
“Yeah, definitely,” Smith said. “When you go out there, a lot of guys like to keep things to themselves. They don’t like to help you and things like that. Especially in a business like this. So him just helping me and things like that, I’m very appreciative of it.”
While Slay has been in the NFL for much longer than Smith, these tips still go both ways. Smith is already considered by many to be a top 10 receiver in the NFL so he helps Slay too. In fact, Slay has called Smith an “elite” route runner, which has been in Smith’s scouting report since Alabama.
Slay, 32, is a five-time Pro Bowler and widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Smith, 24, had 95 catches for nearly 1,200 yards in his second NFL season and is still ascending.
After many years without top-tier receivers or cornerbacks in Philadelphia, it has been a treat over the last two years to watch these positions in practice. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith vs. Darius Slay and James Bradberry in every single practice. Four very good players helping each other get better.
There’s a reason why Slay was named a captain last season. It was the first time he had received that honor in his NFL career and it meant a lot to him. Slay’s leadership style is different and you might not think of him as a traditional captain.
But then you see how he interacts with the younger players and you get it. He’s not a goofball all the time. OK, he is, but he also teaches a ton too. For a couple seasons now, Smith has been benefiting from that tutelage.
And he’s not taking it for granted.