About an hour after realizing his dream to be an NFL draft pick, Eagles’ sixth-rounder JaCoby Stevens was on a Zoom call with Philadelphia-based reporters tossing questions his way.
One of those questions was about his new teammate and first-round pick DeVonta Smith. The answer Stevens gave said a lot about Smith.
It spoke volumes about Stevens too.
Because the detail Stevens gave as he broke down one of his former opponents shows the football IQ that the Eagles and other teams got to witness in Stevens during the pre-draft process.
“I’m a student of the game,” Stevens said on the Eagle Eye podcast this week. “There’s a lot of people that love playing the game, the love playing on Sundays and Saturdays, but how you separate from people that’s just good athletes or OK players from the Tom Bradys and the great players, the Tyrann Mathieus, is what you do between Monday and Saturday … it’s what you do in those times, your preparation and being a student of the game.”
Stevens (6-1, 212) is a bit of a tweener. The Eagles list him as a linebacker after he played both linebacker and safety (and receiver) in college. He’s all-in on being a hybrid defensive weapon at the next level for Jonathan Gannon’s defense.
While Stevens is athletic enough to make it in the NFL, it’s his football IQ and leadership qualities that stand out most. He was an unquestioned leader at LSU and a playmaker. That’s why he got the opportunity to wear the coveted No. 7 last season.
One of the great players who wore No. 7 at LSU — along with Patrick Peterson, Leonard Fournette, DJ Chark and others — was Mathieu, whom Stevens mentioned a few times during a 20-minute interview on Tuesday. Stevens is obviously a very different player than Mathieu but they share a love of film study and putting that work into practice.
“I love it because they just think Tyrann goes out there and just plays on Sundays. He just plays on Sundays and he’s just this great NFL player,” Stevens said. “And I tell them, ‘Do you not think Tyrann studies?’ The types of plays that he makes. I’m getting chills talking about it.
“The type of plays he makes, of course he’s a great athlete, but that’s 100 percent film work. And I guarantee he would say that himself. I think that’s what younger guys need to understand, that film work is what separates you apart at any level of the game.”
Stevens, 22, was one of five players the Eagles drafted from this year’s Senior Bowl. Without a combine this offseason, the Eagles sent a large contingent to Mobile this year and interviewed every player on a Senior Bowl roster. With Stevens, they found an extremely intelligent player.
“In situations, you can get to a spot before they can because you know on film, this is what they do,” Steven said. “Or you can show this thing because you know it makes DeVonta (Smith) run a certain route and he’s playing right into the coverage because this is what he does time and time again. I’m just using that as an example. That’s what separates a lot of guys.”
It wasn’t until pretty late in the pre-draft process that Stevens had a Zoom call with Eagles new linebackers coach Nick Rallis. That meeting went well and Stevens said Rallis was impressed with his recall when tested.
But that shouldn’t be surprising, especially not for a guy who gets chills thinking about film study.
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