'21 Training Camp Pre: For DeVonta Smith, No Time For Growing Pains
[Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series from Andrew DiCecco and Geoff Mosher previewing the Philadelphia Eagles as they head into training camp July 27. This story answers the question: Which offensive rookie will have the biggest impact?]
So far this series, ITB has focused on the strongest area of the, the weakest area of the team and the best offseason move. The focus now moves to the rookie class, and which offensive rookie will have the biggest impact. Here's how we see it:
Geoff Mosher: DeVonta Smith
Only three players from this year's draft class are offensive players, and one is an offensive lineman who's coming off an injury and isn't projected to start right away. By draft status and pedigree alone, first-round pick DeVonta Smith should have the biggest impact on this year's Eagles season, although the door shouldn't be slammed on second-round pick Landon Dickerson's opportunity to make a healthy debut at some point during the year; the Eagles have seen far too many offensive line injuries recently to discount Dickerson's odds of getting onto the field and never coming off.
But to put this plainly, if Smith isn't the team's most impactful offensive rookie this year, the Eagles are in for a longer season than any of their most ardent skeptics could forecast. With holes at so many other positions, especially on defense, the Eagles need their offense to be up to speed, especially to keep pace with some of the prolific quarterbacks and offenses on the schedule for the first half of the season. And for the offense to be up to speed, it needs a playmaker on the perimeter, which is why Howie Roseman traded up one spot in the draft at 10th overall to make sure he came home with college football's most productive receiver in 2020. Smith, the former Alabama star and Heisman finalist, should be expected to start right away and line up in a variety of different receiver spots across a variety of formations, giving first-year starting quarterback Jalen Hurts a dependable and frequent target who should see the ball thrown his way at least eight to 10 times per game. Sure, Dickerson could quickly become a fixture of the offensive line if there's an early injury, and it's fair to expect that fifth-round running back Kenneth Gainwell can contribute as an occasional pass catcher or return specialist if he makes the team out of camp. But barring a major injury, Smith won't just be the most impactful rookie in 2020, he'll be the team's most significant offseason addition.
Andrew DiCecco: DeVonta Smith
Buried beneath the quarterback drama, offensive line shuffling, secondary collapse, and linebacker woes, the Eagles' wide receivers collectively underwhelmed in 2020.
In training camp, it appeared the aerial attack was poised to take flight with a healthy DeSean Jackson, dynamic first-round pick in Jalen Reagor, and the dependable Greg Ward manning the slot.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was also being counted on to make a monumental leap in his second season and live up to his billing as a red-zone weapon and contested-catch specialist as Alshon Jeffery was on the mend.
Instead, injuries limited Jackson to five games, Reagor endured growing pains and looked relatively pedestrian, Arcega-Whiteside fell out of favor and became a non-entity, and the spotlight appeared to be too bright for John Hightower.
Even Travis Fulgham, a late-summer addition who was dominant over a four-week stretch, inexplicably flamed out by season’s end.
For perspective, Greg Ward led the team in receiving touchdowns (6).
With a new regime in place, however, expect a vastly improved receiving corps in 2021. But, in order to reach greater heights as a unit, former Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith will have to be the key component to the solution.
Smith, who is expected to start alongside Reagor and Fulgham, provides route-running savvy, toughness, versatility, and leadership to the receiver room in Philadelphia. Arguably the team’s most polished pass-catcher even as a rookie, Smith should thrive on short-to-intermediate routes, but he also has the elusiveness and determination to create yards after the catch. With the explosive Reagor expected to open up the vertical passing game, and Fulgham as the projected red-zone specialist, Smith could feasibly serve as a target monster as a rookie. If health prevails, he could accumulate upwards of 70 receptions.
Smith also spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons with quarterback Jalen Hurts at Alabama, which should only help from a transitional and continuity standpoint.
Though Smith’s slender frame is cause for concern for some, the Alabama product boasts the requisite skill set, mentality, and experience to line up anywhere. Furthermore, Smith’s extensive support system includes head coach Nick Sirianni, passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo, and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead – a trio of coaches with a wealth of knowledge at that position. Coming from a decorated Crimson Tide program that embraces competition, it's only natural for Smith to embrace the coaching and parlay it into a stellar rookie campaign.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com and Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) is is co-host of the "Inside the Birds" podcast and Senior staff writer/editor for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast from Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan here:
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