Double Dip: Birds Get Speed WR – Again – In Round 1
Insisting that he stayed true to his board and selected the best player available, Howie Roseman, the man in charge of the Eagles’ draft, beamed Thursday as he listed off the special traits that made wide receiver DeVonta Smith worthy of a trade-up with the team’s most fiercest rival.
“We just wanted to make sure we got him,” said Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations. “We really think he can be a difference-maker, both on and off the field.”
So strong in his convictions that Smith will be a prolific playmaker at the pro level like he was as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama, Roseman ponied up an extra third-round pick to package with the 12th overall to strike the deal Thursday night with NFC East rival Dallas for a player at a position the Eagles don’t historically value in the top half of the NFL Draft, making Smith the highest drafted Eagles wide receiver in almost 40 years.
Not since the franchise selected Kenny Jackson out of Penn State fourth overall in 1984 had the Eagles taken a wide receiver higher than 19 overall.
“We saw player, one, that is a smooth,” said Andy Weidl, the team’s vice president of player personnel, the top personnel executive under Roseman. “We saw a player who can win at all three levels. ”
Speed is a trait the Eagles have long desired on the outside. Smith has plenty to offer, along with positional versatility, route-running acumen and a knack for rising to the special moments.
From his game-winning touchdown off the bench as a true freshman in the 2017 national title game to his 12-catch, 215-yard eyebrow, three-touchdown first half – yes, first half – in last season’s championship game, Smith’s brilliance at the sport’s highest level overcame any questions the Eagles entertained about his 166-pound frame.
“What I saw in Devonta is a guy who can consistently win 1 on 1,” first-year Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, a former Colts offensive coordinator, said. “I consistently saw him win 1 on 1 over the top corners in the SEC. When you have a guy like that in your offense, who can do all that, it makes everyone around him better.”
The Eagles, who had traded down from sixth overall to 12th weeks ago in a deal with Miami that netted a first-rounder in 2022, packaged the 74th overall pick to move up for Smith, who once caught passes at Alabama from current Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, the presumed starter for 2021.
With his eyes on Smith and Smith’s college teammate, Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain, Roseman made several calls before dialing up Dallas. He called the Panthers about the eighth overall pick, per ITB’s Adam Caplan, and also called Denver at ninth overall, per two sources, but couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal before finally agreeing with Dallas, helping the Eagles leapfrog their other division rivals, the Giants at 11th overall, to reel in Smith.
Dallas took Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons at 12th. The Eagles still have the 70th overall pick in the third round.
“This was one of the top players in the draft for the Eagles,” Roseman said. “We thought he was a great player and we didn’t want to bypass that to fill a need.”
Smith was the third receiver taken overall, behind Ja’Marr Chase (Bengals, fifth overall) and Smith’s teammate at Alabama, Jaylen Waddle, who went sixth to the Dolphins.
The Eagles, who have struggled recently to develop wide receiver, have now used first-round picks on wide receivers in back-to-back drafts.
Smith joins an Eagles wide receiver group that includes last year’s first-round pick, Jalen Reagor, along with Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, John Hightower, Quez Watkins, and Khalil Tate.
Nobody in the current receiver group has more than two years of NFL experience.
Smith, who the Eagles believe can play outside and inside, is likely to be a moveable piece in Sirianni’s offense and offers a level of perimeter speed the the team hasn’t had since it drafted burner DeSean Jackson in the second round of the 2008 draft.
“The best offenses I’ve been on have been able to move guys around,” he said. “They have to know each position. What we see in DeVonta is the ability move him around.”
One AFC team said Smith, also a sharp route-runner, compares favorably to Marvin Harrison, a Hall of Fame receiver who spent his entire career with the Colts and went over 1,000 yards eight times.
In his final season at Alabama, where he was a five-star recruit, Smith led Division I with 23 receiving touchdowns, 117 receptions and 1,856 yards. He also vaulted to the top of the Southeastern Conference for career receiving yards.
In his first Zoom with reporters, Smith said he was shocked when the Eagles traded up to take him, but also excited.
Asked about the team’s offense, which was among the NFL’s worst last year, Smith said he sees potential to be “very dynamic” this year.
“We all have to come in and put in the work,” he said. “I feel like this team is going to be putting in the work and everyone is going to be excited. We’re trying to turn the program around.”
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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