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May 16, 2021

What they're saying: Eagles tried to trade up for a CB or QB before drafting DeVonta Smith

Eagles NFL
DeVonta-Smith_051621_usat Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith celebrates after scoring a touchdown for Alabama against Ohio State in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Unfortunately for those who follow the Eagles, rookie minicamp was only open to the media for about 20 minutes in total, meaning reporters only got to see warmups and part of the individual portion of the workouts. Clearly, that's not enough to get any sort of an accurate picture of what the team has in its draft picks, as well as their crop of undrafted free agents and tryout players. 

And with the players already releasing a statement through the NFLPA that they will be collectively opting out of the voluntary OTA portion of the offseason program, there won't be many updates on the team coming between now and June 16, when a three-day mandatory minicamp opens. However, if rookie minicamp was any indication, there's a good chance access is severely limited there as well. 

If this sounds like complaining, it sort of is, but not for us, for the fans who use the media as their lens into the team. When the beat guys can't see the team, report on the team or scout the team, it becomes that much more difficult for fans to get excited about the season. And after a disappointing 4-11-1 season that led to the ouster of the head coach and a trade of the franchise quarterback, Eagles fans likely need every incentive possible to get hyped for a season that many see ending again without a playoff berth.

It's unfortunate, but we'll simply make do as best we can. This writer wasn't down at minicamp — it honestly seemed foolish to drive all the way down to the NovaCare Complex to watch guys stretch for 20 minutes and then race home in time for the Zoom meetings — but plenty of others did make the pilgrimage. And for the most part, they liked what they saw (albeit not very much) out of first-round pick DeVonta Smith. 

In today's What They Saying, we'll take a look at Smith, his performance at minicamp — both on the field and at the microphone — and his strengths and weaknesses. But first, a story about how Smith almost wasn't a member of the Eagles and a closer look how well-suited Nick Sirianni's offense is for Jalen Hurts. Let's dive right in... 

Eagles were eyeing a CB or QB

Jeremy Fowler | ESPN

Over at ESPN, Jeremy Fowler had some leftover draft nuggets for each NFL team that he passed along this weekend, and one of the Eagles tidbits suggest that the Eagles were always looking to trade up — just not necessarily for DeVonta Smith. 

The Eagles were holding the 12th pick, and there had been plenty of smoke surrounding them and cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn. Could the Eagles have been looking to move up even higher to get one of those guys before seeing them both come off the board?

In typical fashion, the Eagles were all over the map in the hours before the draft. General manager Howie Roseman loves to mix it up with trade talk; he'll go up, down and sideways on the board.

I talked to three different high-ranking execs in the No. 5-15 range who said a) the Eagles were trying to move up, and b) they were eyeing a cornerback, most likely, or possibly a quarterback.

Whether the latter was an Eagles smokescreen isn't all the way certain, but at the very least they looked into getting Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain II, who went eighth and ninth, before taking DeVonta Smith at No. 10.  [espn.com]

It might not be the worst thing in the world, as it appears the Eagles did get a gem with the 10th pick (we'll have much more on him in a bit).

And in Smith, "they might have gotten the third-best overall player in the draft," said an AFC personnel exec.  [espn.com]

Hurts a fit for Sirianni's scheme?

Jeff McLane | Inquirer.com

On Saturday, we took a look at Nick Sirianni's contradictory answers from his Friday press conference. In one breath, he said you don't fit your players into your offense, you mold your offense to best fit your players' strengths. That's great. However, he also said that he's already started installing "extensive" amounts of the offense, despite not yet knowing who the starting quarterback will be, insisting there were be a competition between Jalen Hurts and Joe Flacco, two totally opposite QBs. 

So, how can that be? How can he be designing the offense to fit his QBs strengths when he doesn't yet know who that QB will be? The simple answer is that he, just like the rest of us, already knows who the QB will be and the "competition" is 100% manufactured so that Hurts isn't just handed the job, even though we all know it's his. 

If we assume that, the next question is, what will Sirianni's offense look like for Hurts? How different will it be from what he ran with the Colts, where he was able to get varying levels of success out of Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers, especially considering those QBs are all very different from Hurts.

Over at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeff McLane took a look at just that... 

Sirianni’s offense, like most in the current NFL, won’t be based on a traditional system like the West Coast or Air Coryell. Frank Reich’s scheme with the Colts could accurately be described as “multiple,” with the former Eagles offensive coordinator piecing together an offense that he took from his stops as player and coach.

He also took from his assistants, like Sirianni, and from Rivers, who preferred some of the deep passing concepts he learned under Norv Turner. But the deep over plays -- “dovers” as Sirianni called them during a film review he did with the Eagles’ website last month -- were always a part of the Colts’ base offense.

[...]

Hurts’ lack of accuracy downfield -- at least based upon a small NFL sample -- would suggest that deep crossing routes won’t be his forte. His tendency to scramble if his first few reads aren’t open won’t help either.

When Sirianni first started installing the offense with his coaches, there wasn’t much in terms of the quarterback read run game or run-pass option plays, two team sources said. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland brought some of that package into the fold, but it remains to be seen whether Sirianni scripts game plans for Hurts that favor those plays.  [inquirer.com]

I'm not sure whether that last part is encouraging or terrifying. On one hand, how could you not have some QB reads or RPOs in an offense that's going to be led by a guy like Hurts? On the other, at least he was willing to take input from a holdover coach? 

Smith's strengths and weaknesses

Brent Taylor | Bleeding Green Nation

Let's shift our focus back to DeVonta Smith for a bit. The former Alabama wideout received a lot of praise coming out of college, but sometimes it's better to go right to the source. You know, like someone who closely watched his entire college career.

That's what the folks at Bleeding Green Nation did when they interviewed Roll Bama Roll writer Brent Taylor about the Eagles first-round pick. I suggest checking out the entire thing, but this part about his strengths and weaknesses really jumped out.

First, his strengths... 

Ruggs always got all the hype for his speed, but Smith hung in there with him all the time. He’s got great top-end striding speed, but even better, can accelerate to the top speed without wasting a step (a by-product of not having to exert a whole bunch of extra force to speed up a 200-pound frame). He’s a slick route-runner, and that translates to his ability to make guys miss in the open field. He’s light but has never shied away from launching shoulder-first into defenders to get an extra yard or two on every catch. Combine that speed, route-running, and YAC ability, and you can see how he’s made a career of turning routine slants into huge plays.

On top of that, he’s always had phenomenal hands, whether it’s making tough, contested catches or just making the routine ones, and he’s got that natural feel for jumping over and around defenders to pull in catches without ever getting bodied out. When he came to Alabama with Ruggs and Jeudy, the general consensus on each of them was that Ruggs was the speed guy, Jeudy was the route-runner, and Smith had the best hands.  [via bleedinggreennation.com]

An Eagles wideout who can catch passes? What a concept!

And now, on to the weaknesses, which, let's be honest, there aren't many. I mean, the dude won the Heisman last year and the only real knock on him is his size, which is seemingly less important than ever in the modern NFL where receivers are allowed all kinds of space. But let's see what Taylor was able to come up with... 

I mean, you’re talking about the first pure receiver to win the Heisman in... 30 years...? There’s really not much to say. I’ve seen a lot about him being a bad run-blocker, but man I’ve seen him spring Waddle and Ruggs free on many wide receiver screens over the years. If anything, I’d say that his YAC ability may not transfer as well in the pros. He’s never really had that ankle-breaking juke ability against a defender right in his grill and is more someone that can just weave through seams between defenders and blockers to pick up huge chunks of yards.  [via bleedinggreennation.com]

Another young WR to watch

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Over at NBC Sports, Roob's 10 observations included a look at not only Smith, but another SEC rookie wideout who could turn some heads this summer: UDFA Trevon Grimes out of Florida. 

1. All eyes were on Smith, and while we didn’t get to see him run any catch any passes from Jamie Newman, the only quarterback in camp this weekend, he looked smooth, fast and athletic running a few individual drills (despite one early drop). He seemed engaged and energetic and got some 1-on-1 coaching from Sirianni, who said after practice Smith does some things better than he realized: “As advertised, he catches everything. That ball touches his hands, he catches it. He’s really long. You guys saw that. He’s got long arms and he’s got a big catch radius. You just don’t know exactly what (you have). You have a really good idea of what you have, but when you get him on the field then you’re just like, ‘Man, we can do this, we can do that, maybe he can do this (and) this (that) maybe we didn’t think he could do.’ He showed his length, he showed his unbelievable hands and he showed I just thought excellent, excellent ability to change directions at the top of his route, even better than we saw on tape, to be honest.” Going to be fun watching this kid at training camp, when they’re not allowed to kick us out after 20 minutes. 

[...]

9. One of those interesting young receivers is undrafted Florida rookie Trevon Grimes, who is huge. He stands 6-4, 225 and with his big Afro looks about 6-7. Sirianni mentioned how well Grimes seemed to move at 6-4, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he turns into a training camp star. He played in the shadow of Terry McLaurin at Ohio State and then Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney at Florida, but he still found a way to pile up nearly 1,500 receiving yards as a collegian. Can’t wait to watch him in action.  [nbcsports.com]

Feeling confident

Tim McManus | ESPN

Finally, if there's one thing it appears DeVonta Smith isn't lacking, it's confidence. 

Asked recently who the best [QB/WR] tandem is, Smith replied: "Me and Jalen."

"I believe if you ask Waddle and Tua, or if you ask Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr, they're going to say themselves," Smith said earlier this week, shortly after arriving in South Philadelphia for rookie minicamp. "That's what you're supposed to say. You're supposed to feel confident about that.

"I believe me and Jalen will continue the connection that we had [at Alabama]. That's just the confidence in it. If you're not confident in what you're doing, then you're in the wrong business."

Hurts and Smith were teammates at Alabama during Smith's freshman and sophomore years (2017-18), when he was earning his stripes while sharing the field with heavyweights such as Calvin Ridley (Atlanta Falcons), Jerry Jeudy (Denver Broncos) and Henry Ruggs III (Las Vegas Raiders). Smith and Hurts connected for 12 receptions, 207 yards and two touchdowns during their time together in Tuscaloosa.  [espn.com]

Eagles fans can only hope that Smith's bold proclamation turns out to be correct. 

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