2021 Projections for the Eagles’ DeVonta Smith
Relying on Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham certainly is not cutting it for the wide receiver core for the Philadelphia Eagles, making their selection of Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith in the first round an easy route to take. For head coach Nick Sirianni, pairing a former Crimson Tide wide receiver in Smith with a former Crimson Tide quarterback in Jalen Hurts was a no-brainer, and can only help improve their struggling offense.
Constant knocks on Smith coming into the draft surrounded his physical stature, or more specifically, lack thereof. The fact that he is built as he is, standing at six foot even and weighing 166 pounds, knocked him down in way too many pre-draft rankings, even with the kind of on-field results he produced during his collegiate career.
Smith was going up against LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and his Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle for being the first draft wideout, an honor that unsurprisingly went to Chase when he was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals with the fifth selection. As he ended up being the third WR to go (as the Miami Dolphins went with Waddle over Chase), the Eagles were more than happy to add the proven wideout to an offense that is desperate for some proven talent to surround Hurts with.
A recent first-round gamble on TCU’s Reagor has proved to be a bad investment, as the former Horned Frogs wideout has been unable to maintain a healthy career so far. With the lack of proven options at the top of the WR depth chart, the likelihood that Smith and Reagor are the top two targets for Hurts this season looks to grow more and more obvious as the days go by.
The issues that have plagued Reagor have seemingly latched onto Smith as well, as the Alabama product recently suffered an MCL sprain that will likely keep him out of practice for the next two-plus weeks. Missing that kind of time is going to set the rookie back a bit, as other options will be able to take his snaps and work to establish a strong relationship with Hurts moving forward.
71 receptions / 962 receiving yards / 6 TDs / 2 fumbles
With reports surfacing that Sirianni will assume play-calling responsibilities for the Eagles this season, it will mark the first time that he will have the full-time role in his coaching career. As Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen translate play calls to Hurts through his helmet, it will develop into plotting some sort of a checkered course for Smith and how he factors into getting the ball.
The Eagles understand the importance of working Smith in from the get-go, as they have been willing to do from the jump in training camp. As Smith has been running with the first unit, it paints a clear picture about the thoughts that the Eagles have of Smith, and they expect to be able to reap the benefits of their first-round selection right out of the gate.
The rushing attack for the Eagles remains to be one of the bigger question marks this team has, as Miles Sanders was unable to produce a healthy or productive season in 2020. Having ran the ball fewer times than 2019, Sanders actually gained more yards and was more efficient with his work, even if he ultimately had his receiving work almost cut in half reception-wise and over a half yardage-wise.
What does this all mean for Smith? Opportunities for both targets and work are to be had for him, and this team seems very eager to give those opportunities to him right out of the gate.
Setting up a 70-plus reception season in his first year may perhaps be ambitious, but to put that in perspective, the combined receiving outputs of tight end Dallas Goedert and Fulgham reached 1,063 yards, a number that Smith could almost reach himself.
The likelihood of all of the weapons that the Eagles have replicating their roles in 2021 is highly unlikely, especially with the on-again, off-again rumors circulating around TE Zach Ertz’s future with the team. He and DeSean Jackson (who left for LAR as a free agent) accounted for 50/571/2, so add another 400-ish yards to those vacated yards and you have the role that Smith could carve out for himself this year.
Betting on a wide receiver from the Eagles to produce fantasy-relevant numbers may look like a crapshoot on the surface, but understanding the type of pre-existing relationship that Smith and Hurts have only helps facilitate an added interest here. This Philadelphia offense has tools and pieces in place to hold themselves afloat in the NFC East division, but they just need to be unlocked – and Smith may just be that key that helps free this long-dormant unit for Sirianni.