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May 26, 2023

Can DeVonta Smith take the next step into the NFL's elite?

DeVonta Smith took a huge stride in year 2. Will year 3 see him become one of the league's best receivers?

With every crisp route last season, with every bounce off of a tackle, and of course, with every highlight-reel catch, DeVonta Smith established himself as one of the NFL's best. 

Among the league's truly elite receivers? Maybe not just yet. 

But top 10?

"I kind of always felt like that," Smith told the media at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday. "To myself, humbly."

And entering Year 3, the likelihood is that he's only going to keep climbing up. 

Smith racked up 1,196 yards and seven touchdowns last season on 95 receptions and at an average of 12.6 yards per catch.

Even with star receiver A.J. Brown lining up by the opposite sideline and with top tight end Dallas Goedert in close, the 24-year old wideout remained as one of Jalen Hurts' favorite targets from the year before and a heavy source of production for what quickly became one of the NFL's powerhouse offenses.

For opposing defenses, it was pick your poison all season long, and even then, Smith was always a bad choice. 

Coming into 2022, his route running got quicker and cleaner, but then the "Slim Reaper" bulked up too. He was able to push through contact after the catch much better, ward off coverage while tracking a ball still in the air to greater success, and was far more fearless in going up for contested catches. 

By around Week 3 at Washington, short five-yard passes getting stretched into 10, catches in stride across the open field, and incredible leaps and grabs over coverage were becoming routine, and that carried all the way to the Super Bowl – one-handed grabs and all

"Humbly" and maybe even somewhat quietly, Smith became one of the NFL's more dangerous and dynamic pass-catching threats on an Eagles team full of them. 

Yet he'll be the first to tell you that he has much further to go and so much more to do. 

"I think as you go on and you just continue to raise your level of play, I think that comes into it, like I said, more understanding of the game and things like that," Smith said. "That's just being confident in myself and my abilities. I mean, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have that many guys who come up here and probably don't think they're not. But yeah, just being confident in my abilities and raising my play."

Smith's place in the top 10 conversation originally sparked from his appearance on I Am Athlete's "Paper Route" podcast earlier in the week

In it, former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall and host Ashley Nicole Moss asked Smith whether he felt slighted by generally not being considered a top-five receiver by most yet. 

He said he wasn't. Compared to the likes of Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and even his teammate in Brown, the total body of work for him to be considered as such just isn't there quite yet. Top 10, sure, but not top five. Not yet.

"Nah, I wouldn't put myself nowhere up there with those guys," Smith told the two. "Those guys, they have the numbers to speak for them and things like that. I still have a long way to go. 

"Do I envision myself being there? Definitely, eventually, but as of now, I wouldn't put myself up there with the body of work those guys have put in year in and year out. I wouldn't associate myself with that."

But in time, the likelihood is he will.

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