Eagles

An area where DeVonta Smith is already well beyond his years

Eagles

Eagles sixth-round pick, safety-turned-linebacker JaCoby Stevens faced a lot of good receivers during his time at LSU. But there was one who stood out in 2020.

Stevens last week said his new teammate DeVonta Smith was “hands down” the toughest receiver he had to try to defend last season.

“I’m glad he's on my team,” Stevens said.

We say try because when LSU hosted Alabama on Dec. 5 last season, Smith had a career day with eight catches for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 55-17 Tide victory. He made some spectacular catches in that game to boost his stock as the eventual Heisman Trophy winner.

But Stevens was more impressed by some of the understated things Smith did. That’s why he said he was the toughest guy to defend.

“Just because he can run every route. He makes every route look the same,” Stevens said. “We hear often he's a quarterback at receiver. When he's running the crossing routes at Alabama, he knows the holes and the gaps in the zone, and believe it or not, a lot of receivers don't know that.

“So he knows when to sit down and when to idle his speed back to appear open for his quarterback. So I'm happy that DeVonta Smith is on my team. That's one less guy that I have to worry about covering in the game in a sense in this draft class.”

He makes every route look the same.

That might not sound like a big deal but it definitely is. Smith is a technician when it comes to route running. Something nuanced, like disguising routes, is a great example of Smith’s football IQ, which is well beyond his years.

 

“To know that, to be able to do that at the college level and already have that ability to, the knowledge, the football IQ to do that, that's pretty impressive,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said. “Because that's exactly what we're trying to do with receivers.

“Hey, you go inside and you're in the slot. Make your deep crossing route look like your deep sale route look like your stick route look like your through route. It's exactly what we want to do. Because we want to put deception into the defensive back's mind. We don't want them to know what we're doing. Then when you're running up into this route, give a little head fake this way then break this way or give a little head fake this way, and break this way. The way that head fake works is when everything looks alike. So boom, boom, and then breaking out.

“That's great insight. You can definitely see that on DeVonta's tape and that's a sign that he was well-coached and that he's a great student of the game.”

As a former receiver and a former receivers coach, it’s not hard to figure out why Sirianni likes the technically proficient No. 10 pick. At 6-1, 166 pounds, people will always talk about Smith’s slender build but he makes up for it in so many ways. One of those ways is obviously his incredible hands; he doesn’t drop passes. But this is another. The ability to beat corners with his savvy routes is impressive.

And it should be no surprise that two of the players he studies the most in the NFL are Keenan Allen and Davante Adams, two guys known for their route-running prowess. Allen played for Sirianni with the Chargers, so the head coach is very familiar.

Why does Smith watch those guys?

“Just the attention to detail, the route-running, the releases, them being in the right place at the right time,” he said on the latest Takeoff with John Clark podcast. “Just every thing they do, it reminds me of myself.”

Shortly after the Eagles traded up from 12 to 10 to draft Smith, the Eagles’ rookie was asked to name his favorite route and said, “Any route.”

He also humbly downplayed his route running proficiency.

“Route running is part of being a receiver,” he said. “So, that's something that you have to do. Without that how else do you expect to get open? Some guys can bully their way open, but you can't bully everybody. Sometimes you have to lean on the route running. That's a big part of being a receiver, so I take pride in it and that's what I do.”

Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast:

Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube