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Profile: Philadelphia Eagles’ DeVonta Smith
A young Eagle gets ready to fly
By Dave Spadaro

Photos: Philadelphia Eagles

It was a warm mid-summer day, and the Eagles were hard at work on the practice field, early in their Training Camp at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. Two of the greatest wide receivers in team history were taking in the action and talking casually on the sidelines. Harold Carmichael, inducted this year into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Mike Quick, a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame who made 5 consecutive Pro Bowls, had their focus on the wide receivers group, one of the players in particular.

“That kid,” Quick says, pointing to No. 6 DeVonta Smith, “is special. You know that, right Harold?”

“He looks good to me,” Carmichael says.

“Good?” Quick replies. “He’s the one who’s gonna break all our records.”

Smith, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Alabama, is that striking, that impressive at first glance. He’s a wisp of a young man at 6-feet, 170 pounds, but don’t let the slight build fool you. Nicknamed The Slim Reaper, Smith is every bit the dominator on the football field. In 54 games at Alabama, Smith caught 235 passes for 3,965 yards and 46 touchdowns. The numbers are ridiculous, almost too good to be true.

But they are all legitimate, as is Smith, who turns 23 next month and who has all the pressure from a wide receiver-crazed fan base on his broader-than-you-think shoulders.

 

DeVonta Smith signed a 4-year $20 million contract with the Eagles

 

“What I saw in DeVonta was just a guy who can consistently win one-on-one,” head coach Nick Sirianni says about the scouting process of Smith prior to the draft. “It’s a little different how he does it. He does it with speed, quickness. He does it at the top of the route, beginning of the route, off the line of scrimmage. But I consistently saw him win one-on-one, and when you have a guy like that in your offense who can do that, it makes everybody else around him better.”

“He’s a long strider and fast, as we’ve all seen with his tape. We are super impressed with a lot of things he can do, and we see a lot of different ways he can fit our offense.”

The legend of DeVonta Smith started way back when he was a kid in tiny Amite, Louisiana, in the barbershop of Vincent Sanders, a longtime friend of Smith’s grandfather and a mentor to several young athletes around town. In addition to taking care of Smith’s hair, Sanders provided guidance to the young football player as his game grew and his reputation spread through the world of youth football and then the high school game. Even when Smith committed to playing at Alabama, Sanders made sure Smith was on point with everything he did to become the greatest football player he could. That’s what Smith wanted to be since he was a little kid, since he committed to playing football over basketball, even as a rail-thin wide receiver.

Nobody could catch him then. Nobody can catch him now.

“Here’s the thing about DeVonta,” Sanders says. “None of this is a surprise. DeVonta has been preparing for this his entire life. He has dedicated himself to being a great football player. When he needed to add weight going to Alabama, he did that. When he had a game there, we would talk on the phone or I would be there and we would go over the game, play by play. He wanted to do that instead of going out and partying. He was all about football and doing whatever he needed to do to improve himself.”

“I wondered, ‘Why isn’t he out at a party?’ We talked about it,” adds Sanders. “That’s just not who he is. He is a serious, intentional young man. His focus is playing football and being great at football. I know it’s not usually what you see from a 22-year-old kid. But it’s genuine. He wants to be the best.”

Smith is just beginning his NFL journey, of course. In this game of grown men, there is no forgiveness. Nobody cares about his past or about how much he wants to be the best. Defenses are going to try to lean into that 170-pound body and wear it down, beat him to the ground, knock him out of the game.

That’s just the reality of the league.

 

Wide Receiver DeVonta Smith was selected by the Eagles as the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft

 

“I’m excited about that. I’m playing with the best of the best,” Smith says. “It’s just that I have high expectations for myself. Nothing anybody else can say or do is going to take me away from my intentions. I’ve heard this stuff before. When I got to Alabama, people said I was too small. Then it was stuff like, ‘Oh, there are going to be better players who will take your job.’ Defensive guys talk stuff to me all the time. I don’t let it get to me. I don’t talk back. I just let my play do the talking.”

His play isn’t just talking – it’s screaming. Smith is a smooth route runner, crisp in and out of his cuts, faster than scouting reports say, and fearless in every way. His hands are glue and there is that certain something special. He exudes “special.” All it takes, really, is one practice to see just how polished Smith is as his NFL career begins. And that has led to the hyperbolic predictions of what is in front of Smith.

“Look at him,” Quick says as Smith hauls in a deep pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts, beating double coverage like it wasn’t there at all. “He can go anywhere he wants on the field. He’s gonna handle the NFL, just like he tore up college football at Alabama. When he’s done, I’m not even sure people are going to remember who I am.”

And with that, Quick and Carmichael chuckle and turn their attention back to the field, marveling at a young player who has worked to put himself in this very moment. He looks the part. He is comfortable in his own skin. And DeVonta Smith carries with him the responsibility of helping to lift the Eagles back to the top of the NFC East, one big play at a time.

“I love it,” Smith says. “I’ve been working my whole life to play football in the NFL. I’m having a great time.”


Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro has covered every Eagles game since 1987 and is seen and heard throughout the year on television, radio and Eagles coverage everywhere. You can hear his Eagles Live Podcast on iTunes.

October 2021
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