Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith’s addition makes everyone better

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Eagles‘ offense was never particularly good under ex-head coach Doug Pederson.

Sure, some will point to the 2017 season as contradictory to that statement, as the Birds ranked third overall in team offense, but statistically speaking, that campaign was a total anomaly spurned on by Frank Reich‘s influence.

Since Reich left the City of Brotherly Love in 2018, things haven’t been so sunny.

Some of the Eagles’ wounds were self-inflicted, as Pederson hated to run the ball with a burning passion and his play calling was never particularly innovative, but some weren’t. No one could have predicted how injuries would pile up in 2020 or how players like Zach Ertz, Carson Wentz, and Jason Peters would underperform versus their previous heights.

But now, at least one of the team’s longest-running issues has come to an end. After suffering along without a true number one wide receiver since 2017, maybe even 2015, the Philadelphia Eagles have a top pass-catching target in 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith and believe you me, he’s going to make everyone’s life a whole lot easier.

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DeVonta Smith is a certified number one wide receiver.

Is that a lot of pressure to put on a 22-year-old rookie who was worrying about classes this time last year? Most definitely, but it’s hard not to be boorish about the Amite City, Louisiana native’s upside because he’s just so gosh darn good at everything you want a wide receiver to be good at.

Smith has great hands, even better vision, and is already one of the better route runners in the NFL without having logged a single snap in a single game, regular season or not. While some have and will continue to quibble about his weight – but not for the typical reason people complain about weight – Smith knows how to work through press, work his way around man, and pick apart zone coverage like a grizzled vet.

Will Smith make Jalen Hurts’ life a whole lot easier? Oh, most definitely, having Smith will be akin to Carson Wentz having Zach Ertz during his formative years, only for everything the current – for now – Eagles’ tight end brings to the table, he never brought the same dynamic flexibility the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner brings to the table.

Even as a rookie, Smith should be able to play any of the Eagles’ three wide receiver spots in 11 personnel. Whether he’s technically listed as an X, slot, or flanker, Nick Sirianni could move Smith around formations from snap to snap to set up mismatches a la Jeremy Maclin back in the day.

If that’s all Smith brought to the table, it’d be more than justifiable value for selecting him 11th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, but fortunately, his presence doesn’t solely make Hurts’ life easier. No, by having Smith on the offensive as the Eagles’ number one receiving option, every other player’s life and assignments just became a whole heck of a lot easier.

Miscast as an outside-only receiver for much of his rookie season, Jalen Reagor has spent his spring transitioning into the slot, where his YAC abilities could add an intriguing wrinkle to Sirianni’s offense. Sure, he could still line up on the outside and will surely play opposite Smith in two wide receiver sets, but getting to make plays on the inside while opposing DC’s focus on number 6 should make Reagor’s life a little easier.

The same, surely, could be said for Travis Fulgham, who excelled in 2020 when he was a mere footnote on the scouting report instead of a featured player. With Smith lined up as a flanker, Fulgham will receive more one-on-one looks on the outside as the Eagles’ big-bodied X wide receiver and make the sort of plays that turned heads around the league in the second quartile of the 2020 NFL season.

While Smith’s presence will surely bump one receiver out of the starting five, and all but eliminate the role of a player like John Hightower, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Quez Watkins, or even Greg Ward, being a fourth wide receiver is a whole lot easier from an assignment standpoint than the third wide receiver, and could open up a host of creative options for Sirianni to deploy different sets depending on a play’s design.

Heck, one could make an argument that because Smith is so versatile, his ability to play any wide receiver position could create defined roles for Hightower when he’s at the X, Ward when he’s in the slot, or Fulgham/JJAW when he’s flanking.

From Miles Sanders to Kenneth Gainwell, Dallas Goedert, and even Ertz if he somehow shocks the world and sticks around, having Smith on the field will take some attention away from every other pass catcher the Eagles have on the field on any given snap and give Hurts a few more easy reads from game to game.

It couldn’t hurt, right?

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Is DeVonta Smith a magic pill that will shoot the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense to number one with a bullet? No. Even if he catches 88 balls for 1,400 yards like Justin Jefferson in 2020, it won’t suddenly guarantee the team a winning record – see, for example, Jefferson’s Minnesota Vikings – but by having a real live human number one receiver for the first time in what feels like forever – depending on how you feel about Alshon Jeffery – the life of every member of the Eagles’ offense just became a little bit easier, which is invaluable for a team embarking on an evaluative season.