“The biggest risk is not taking any risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg
The Philadelphia Eagles held the 6th overall pick and in essence, held the pick of the litter in terms of options near the top of the the first round in the NFL Draft. This is why fans and media alike were stunned when Howie Roseman and the Eagles elected to trade back with the Miami Dolphins from 6th overall to 12th overall.
The decision as to why the Eagles choose to trade back created a lot of puzzled minds.
It was a risk, a huge risk.
“The reason we traded back from 6 to 12 is because flexibility creates opportunity,” Roseman said in last month’s press conference.
“For us, having an extra first round pick, when you look back at things that are hard to acquire it’s an extra first round pick,” Roseman continued.
“What we really had to do is sit there and go, who are the 12 best players in this draft that we would feel really good about? Are there 12 players in this draft that we really feel good about? That’s what we’re going to do throughout this draft. If you move back, it’s because you feel like you have a bunch of guys that are the same value and to be really happy getting one and getting the extra volume from that pick. If you move up, it’s because your board kind of drops off at that point.
“You have to feel like you’re getting a premium and we felt like we were getting a premium to do that.”
Since the end of the 2020 regular season, up to the current moment in time, the Philadelphia Eagles have been engulfed by risk.
- The organization elected to carry the largest dead cap hit in NFL history ($33.8M) by trading their former franchise quarterback.
- The team fired a Super-Bowl winning head coach, 3 years after Doug Pederson declared it was the organization’s “New Norm.”
- The team hired a head coach that no other team interviewed in this year’s hiring cycle.
- They jettisoned veterans like Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, and are reportedly shopping Zach Ertz.
All of these decisions are enormous risks, but they are risks that the organization have deemed worth taking. And their latest 1st-round pick, who they traded up from 12th overall to take at 10th overall, is yet another risk, but he may offer the organization the biggest pay off of all.
DeVonta Smith stands 6’1 and weighs 166 pounds. Smith’s thin cartoon-like frame is one that causes many fans and pundits to question whether or not he can hold up against the physicality of NFL defenses. And on the surface, it’s logical.
But when the filmed is turned on, you can begin to see why Smith was the Eagles’ guy.
“Whenever his team needed him, he stepped up,” Eagles V.P. of Player Personnel Andy Weidl said after the selection of Smith.
“The moment was never too big for him. And you saw it in different situations this year. Jaylen Waddle went down, he steps up his game. He showed up in big moments. It’s never too big for him. Those are things that really capture the player and what we saw during the evaluation process.”
Smith’s size has long been the main knock against him since he stepped foot on a football field. As a freshman at Amite High School in Louisiana, Smith weighed 120 pounds and according to Smith, he weighed “145-150” pounds as a senior.
Despite this, no matter what situation Smith has been placed into, he’s knocked it out of the park. As Weidl said, “The moment was never too big for him.”
Whether it was coming out of high school as a 150 pound, 4-star recruit and entering an Alabama wide receiver room full of elite talents like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Jaylen Waddle and catching the winning touchdown pass in the 2018 National Championship game as a true freshman, or being the first wideout in 29 years to win the Heisman trophy, or snagging 46 touchdown passes in 3 years, the Slim Reaper has dominated.
But the thing with Smith that sort of eases any concerns about his size is the way he dominates. Smith has every piece of the puzzle you want in a modern day elite NFL wide receiver.
The technical and refined ability in his releases and route running are there.
The ability to beat press coverage is there (Smith was PFF’s second highest rated pass catcher against press coverage in 2020).
The separation and run-after-the catch ability is there.
The strong hands and fearlessness at the catch point are there (Smith dropped 3 passes in the 2020 season).
The only knock against Smith is his size. But when you watch Smith play, most (if not all) of these concerns cannot be validated. Smith has terrorized SEC defensive backs for 3 years and even though there is almost no precedent for a receiver of Smith’s size having success at the NFL level outside of someone like Marvin Harrison, Smith may very well be the outlier.
Historically, receivers playing at Smith’s size have struggled, but none of them have displayed the combination of skills that Smith has. The concerns over the unknown proved to be insurmountable to the anomaly that Smith may continue to prove to be.
And with the Eagles, Smith will be given every opportunity to continue to display that ability that made him not only a Heisman winner, but a 2020 Biletnikoff Award winner (given to the top receiver in college football), a 2× First-team All-SEC member, and the first wide receiver to win the AP Player of the Year award since its creation in 1998.
In an offseason filled with risks, the selection of Smith encapsulates it all for the Eagles. He allows quarterback (and former teammate at Alabama), Jalen Hurts to get at least a year to stake his claim to earning the franchise quarterback label. He is the inaugural first round pick of the Nick Sirianni era in Philadelphia. He is the second receiver the Eagles have taken in the first round in back-to-back drafts. He is the first Alabama player to ever be taken in the first round by the Eagles. And finally, he is tied for the lightest receiver to ever be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft at 166 pounds (Marquise Brown is the other receiver).
The risk is certainly present, but Smith has been doubted from day one and each time he’s proved the doubters wrong every chance he’s gotten.
Who’s to say it’ll be any different this time around?
Cover Image Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images