Smith is on pace to match former All-Pro's rookie numbers


DeVonta Smith has been one of the silver linings this year for Eagles fans, showing off the skillset that made him the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner and a no-brainer Top 10 overall pick in last spring's NFL draft.

Smith has 38 catches for 537 yards and two touchdowns in nine games so far, and is on pace for a 1,000-yard receiving season - albeit in a 17-game season instead of a 16-game season.

But still, the point remains: Smith is crushing his rookie year.

And while the difference between the 16-game season and the 17-game season might make it slightly harder to gauge what counting stats would qualify Smith's first go-round as a successful one, the advanced numbers over at Football Outsiders make things much clearer.

Through nine games, Smith is on the same trajectory as a wideout who wound up making two All-Pro first teams and seven Pro Bowls.

That wideout? Texans great Andre Johnson.

Football Outsiders took a look at the rookie wide receiver class in a blog post Tuesday, and dropped this fascinating nugget about the parallels between Smith and Johnson's rookie campaigns:

"Smith is on pace to finish with 164 DYAR and a 5.3% DVOA. Those almost exactly match the numbers Andre Johnson (169 DYAR, 5.4% DVOA) had as a rookie in 2003."

If those abbreviations aren't in your football jargon, they're a pair of extremely helpful analytics. DYAR and DVOA both attempt to limit the affect opposing defenses have on a player's production by adjusting for league-average defense. (You can read more about them here.) https://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/glossary


It's doubly interesting to see Smith and Johnson on similar trajectories because those Texans were not any good. They finished last in the AFC South with a 5-11 record, and Johnson was a bit hamstrung by quarterback David Carr (56.6% completion, 6.8 yards/attempt, 9 TD:13 INT), but the rookie Miami product still put up a monster season.

And a look at Johnson's counting stats that year, compared with Smith's current 16-game pace, show that Smith's trajectory isn't just similar in the advanced numbers realm:

  • Johnson '03: 66 catches, 976 yards, 4 touchdowns
  • Smith '21: 67.5 catches, 954 yards, 3.5 touchdowns

The two have drastically different sizes and play styles - Johnson a big-bodied, high-point wideout; Smith a slight, quick, space-generating wizard - but their respective effects on the game as rookies are almost exactly the same.

If Smith goes on to replicate Johnson's career, all those All-Pro teams and Pro Bowl selections and monster receiving years, Eagles fans will be plenty happy with that pick.

We're off to a good start.

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