The Eagles weren’t lying when they said they didn’t care about size.
They proved it on Thursday night.
The Eagles didn’t just take an undersized receiver, they traded up from 12 to 10 with the Cowboys to get their guy. The Birds drafted wide receiver DeVonta Smith out of Alabama with the 10th overall selection, landing the dynamic Heisman Trophy winner.
The Eagles traded pick No. 84 in the third round to move in front of the Giants to get Smith. The Eagles watched as Jaylen Waddle, Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain were drafted 6-8-9.
For years, the Eagles have struggled to find premier receivers and they’ll now hope they’ve done just that with this selection of Smith. They will be counting on him to become a cornerstone of the franchise. For a team that hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jeremy Maclin in 2014, the Eagles are hoping Smith can change all that.
In Philly, Smith will be reunited with Jalen Hurts, who was his teammate at Alabama.
“I just know for sure that we’re going to work every day,” Smith said to NFL Network just after he was drafted. “Every day, we’re going to come in and give our best. And we’re ready.”
While there’s no denying Smith’s talent after a season in which he dominated the SEC, there are legitimate concerns about his size and how his game will translate into the NFL because of it.
Smith came in at 6-foot, 166 pounds at the combine medical check. The Eagles just made him the lightest receiver ever to be selected in the first half of the draft.
Just last week, the Eagles hinted that they wouldn’t care about his size.
“Good players come in all shapes and sizes, and so we're not going to discriminate based on any of those things,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said last week.
While you can certainly question the decision to draft such a small player so early in the draft, you can’t question Smith’s production at Alabama. He was prolific for the Crimson Tide.
Smith is dynamic at the line of scrimmage. You’d think bigger DBs would be able to press and lock him down, but Smith is able to shake bigger corners, get open and doesn’t drop many footballs.
And he certainly doesn’t think size will be an issue at the next level:
“I feel like it’s not gonna be no different from college,” Smith said at his pro day. “I mean, I played against some of the best in college. I played in the SEC, I feel like it’s the toughest conference it is. I know a lot of people that’s bigger than me that has more problems than me, so I’m not worried about it at all.”
During his Heisman season in 2020, Smith caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards (15.9) and 23 touchdowns. That came after a junior season in which he had 68/1,256/14. Despite his small stature, Smith played the X receiver position at Alabama and still put up monster numbers. Last week, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni pointed out that X receivers come in all sizes; the most important thing is that they can win 1-on-1 matchups. Smith has done that consistently at a high level.
Smith might project more as a Z receiver in the NFL. But the Eagles will be able to find ways to get Smith and Jalen Reagor on the field together.
Speaking of Reagor, last year’s first-rounder, the Eagles have now drafted receivers in the first round of back-to-back drafts for the first time in franchise history. Last year, they left Justin Jefferson on the board but this year they took the productive receiver from the SEC.
The Eagles' group of wideouts is young and inexperienced but seems to have some talent. Smith will join a group that already includes Reagor, Travis Fulgham, Quez Watkins, John Hightower, Greg Ward Jr. and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. While there’s some talent in that group of incumbent receivers, it’s unproven talent. It’ll be up to the new coaching staff to get the most out of those players.
Smith is the first Heisman Trophy winner drafted by the Eagles since Notre Dame’s Jon Huarte in 1965. The Eagles took Huarte in the sixth round but he was also taken in the AFL Draft by the Jets and went there instead. He was beaten out by Joe Namath.
Smith is also the first player the Eagles have drafted directly out of Alabama since the fifth round of the 2002 draft, when they took Freddie Milons. And he’s the first Alabama player ever taken in the first round by the Eagles.
“You know, I think we look at Alabama as a program that's incredibly well run,” Roseman said last week. “The NFL players that come out of there are ready to play and ready to go. I know there's a lot of guys on our draft board at the University of Alabama not only in this draft but in a lot of other drafts.
“Tremendous respect for (Alabama) Coach [Nick] Saban and what they've done there, and we would be excited to add players from the University of Alabama.”
The Eagles had the No. 12 pick after trading down from No. 6 last month, a move that netted them another first-rounder in 2022. They eventually moved up two spots and landed their guy.
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