It was late March, the 26th to be exact, and the Eagles had an offer from Miami that they just couldn't refuse, trading from No. 6 in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft to No 12 to give them an additional first-round pick in 2022 and the flexibility of making the kind of move the Eagles made on Thursday night.
After Denver made the move at No. 9 to take Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain, Howie Roseman went to work, sending the No. 12 pick and a third-round selection (84th overall) to Dallas to move ahead of the New York Giants and select Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner at No. 10 overall. The Giants traded back to 20 and grabbed Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, indicating a definite intent to take a wide receiver in the first round.
In effect, then, the Eagles moved first- and third-round draft picks and swapped a fifth-round pick for a fourth-round pick in 2021 while acquiring Smith and a first-round pick from Miami in 2022. It all worked out as well as anyone could have hoped as Philadelphia brings to its wide receiver corps a player with versatility, explosiveness, and enough production to win the Heisman Trophy last season when he had an incredible 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. Smith finished his remarkable career with the Crimson Tide having caught 235 passes for 3,965 yards and 46 touchdowns.
Shortly after the pick, the Eagles trio of Howie Roseman, Nick Sirianni, and Andy Weidl talked about the decision to take Smith and what he means to an offense that needs an infusion of young talent in the wide receiver room.
"We saw a player that was a smooth mover. He can open up and run and he was a player that can win at all three levels from different alignments," said Weidl, the team's vice president of player personnel. "I think his ability to high-point the ball, to play above the rim, to adjust to the football, to make contested catches, really stood out.
"I think another thing about Smith that we really liked about the guy is his selflessness. Not only was he a productive receiver, he was a punt returner. He returned a punt for a touchdown this year against Arkansas. He's been a gunner in the past on the punt team. When you talk about a teammate that would go above and beyond to help his team win, he embodied that. We're excited to bring him in, excited to have that caliber of receiver that DeVonta brings to us."
Smith joins a wide receiver corps that includes 2020 No. 1 draft pick Jalen Reagor, slot receiver Greg Ward, and a whole bunch of young receivers who the Eagles need to develop for the season ahead. Travis Fulgham was a standout for a month last season before his numbers and playing time faded. Rookies John Hightower and Quez Watkins showed glimpses of talent and look to take the next step. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside enters his third season. There is some talent here, good young players who can be more consistent and productive.
In Smith, the Eagles have a 6-foot, 170-pound player who dominated at the highest level of college football and who brings crisp route-running skills, fearlessness, explosiveness, and a skill set that allows him to be versatile at multiple wide receiver spots.
"I think if you look at any offense that I've been a part of for the past eight years, we move our guys around all over the place," Sirianni said. "To say he plays 'F,' in the slot, to say he plays the 'X,' plays the 'Z,' yes, he'll play all of those things because we move our guys around. What I saw on Devonta was just a guy who could consistently win one-on-one. It's a little different with how he does it. He does it with speed, he does it with quickness, he does it at the top of the route, he does it at the beginning of the route, off the line of scrimmage.
"I consistently saw him win one-on-one versus some of those top corners in the SEC and when you have a guy like that in your offense that can do that, it makes everybody else around him better. The quarterback can go one-two-three-four-five-hitch-throw … and get the ball out of his hands. When it's a one-high safety look, you can just play football with him over there. He takes the read out of it a little bit … He's a long strider and as fast as we've all seen with his tape. We throw a lot of crossing routes in our offense and you can just see from some of the guys from our past that can run away from the defense. He had that part of his game as well.
"He has very good YAC (yards after catch) ability. Easy touches to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands and into his hands. He showed that in a very competitive league, obviously. The major requirement of the position is that you catch the football. That's the major requirement. You've got to be able to do that, and he does that exceptionally well."
The plan the Eagles put in place months ago, and the myriad scenarios they prepared for since then, paid off in a big way. DeVonta Smith was one of the highest-rated players on the draft board, a player the Eagles think can be a difference-maker at a position that can grow and mature and develop together. He brings the total package to an offense that needed more weapons.
"Obviously, we've got a lot more work to do here tomorrow and Saturday and it is definitely not shifting our focus or philosophy," Roseman said. "We stuck to our board on this. This is a guy whose grade stuck out. This is one of the top players in the draft for the Eagles. We thought he was a great player and we didn't want to bypass that."
Get your first look at the Eagles 2021 first-round pick, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.