With the trade of Carson Wentz to Indianapolis in the offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles ushered in a new era with sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts leading the charge for the 2021 season. To build around their new QB1, Philadelphia traded up to draft Alabama receiver and 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith with the 10th overall pick.
The preseason so far has been a bit of a slow start for the Alabama standout. Smith missed the Eagles’ first preseason game against the Steelers with a strained MCL. Fortunately, he didn’t miss too much time and was back on the field in time for Philadelphia’s second game against the New England Patriots.
There was some buzz among fans and analysts heading into the game, as news had come out that Hurts would miss the game after going to the hospital with an (at that time) unspecified illness. At the same time, Smith made his highly anticipated debut in NFL action.
Smith started the game with last-minute starter Joe Flacco, and on Flacco’s first couple of targets to the Heisman winner, Smith dropped both. He made the in-game adjustments he needed to quickly, and two targets later, he had two receptions for 19 yards, his final stat line for the game.
For those who didn’t follow the game past the stats in the box score, only two receptions on four targets for 19 yards wouldn’t indicate that Smith was the NFL-caliber receiver that Philadelphia hoped for. After fellow first-round receiver Ja’Marr Chase had some issues with drops early in his preseason as well, some fans were ready to call both Chase and Smith busts. As with Chase, I’m here to say that it’s way too early (and straight-up wrong) to call Smith a bust.
First, let’s look at the full picture surrounding his drops. Smith missed weeks of training camp and his first preseason game with an injury, then found out the day of his NFL debut that his starting quarterback wouldn’t be Hurts as expected, but Flacco. If those circumstances weren’t enough, there might have been some factor of nerves for a guy playing at the pro level for the first time. Regardless of what was going on and regardless of the initial drops, Smith made an adjustment. Instead of letting his drops affect his play, he continued to create opportunities and finished his night with two receptions.
Second, there’s more to the story than the statistics. Smith looked like an elite receiver in his release off the line of scrimmage. He easily shook off Patriots’ cornerback Michael Jackson Sr. at the line on this play, which also featured him running a whip route to perfection.
Smith’s ability to create separation early and maintain it with his route-running talent is exactly what the Eagles hoped to see from him. If he’s consistently able to create openings for himself like that, his production numbers will rise quickly, especially when he gets the chance to continue working with Philadelphia’s true QB1.
Third, and I keep saying this, we’re still in the preseason! Not only that, but the Eagles still have another preseason game left to play on Friday night. There is still the entire regular season to go, and we’ll have a better idea of what regular production will look like from Smith once it begins. I have a strong feeling that the numbers in the box score will reflect his talent once the regular season starts, and I think that will be evident quickly.
Instead of overreacting to two drops in a preseason game or a disappointing initial lack of production in a game that, ultimately, doesn’t really matter, let’s be patient with this young receiver. He’ll make it worth our while.