PHILADELPHIA – Rookie recipient DeVonta Smith’s NFL career is off to a quick start.
The number 10 of the overall selection in the 2021 draft leads the Philadelphia Eagles at receptions (25) and reception yards (314) and takes second place among the rookies in both categories behind former teammate Jaylen Waddle (27 catches) with the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase (456 yards).
Smith will be in the national spotlight Thursday night when the Eagles host quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox / NFL Network).
Smith didn’t exactly sneak up on anyone. The Eagles switched in the April draft to select him after a Heisman Trophy campaign in which he led the NCAA in receptions (117), yards (1,856) and touchdowns (23) for Alabama.
However, there were some concerns about how he would move to the NFL given his 6-foot, 170-pound frame. The previous seven recipients selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft were two inches taller and about 40 pounds heavier (6-foot-2, 212 pounds on average), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The final wideout chosen to weigh less than 180 pounds was Tavon Austin, who has not started a game in the past three seasons and has not exceeded five touchdown catches in a single season.
But those who spent time with Smith during his pre-combine and draft prep work at Yo Murphy Performance in Tampa, Fla. Were far from concerned – a respected group that included Pro Football Hall of Fame recipient Randy Moss and linebacker Derrick Brooks, as well as Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard. From the way Smith trained to his deep understanding of the game, it was clear that Smith was one of a kind.
“When you’re young, you play out emotions and energy,” said Moss. “Rarely is there a boy who wants to be a student of the game at a young age. And I think that’s what he wants to be.”
Make an impression on Moss
Smith’s explosiveness and ability to break away from defenders are off-line, but his strong desire to learn and improve despite his college-level accomplishments was the Moss who is part of Yo Murphy’s draft prep program impressed. When he arrived in Tampa in January, Smith had surgery to fix a dislocated finger that was sustained in the national title game. He was not allowed to catch passports and initially couldn’t even practice his 40-yard run because his injured finger was on his standing hand.
“He couldn’t walk routes,” Moss said, “so he said, ‘Is it okay if I just come here and stand around and just listen?’ That impressed me more because you’re down there in the heat for an hour and a half or two and he just sits there and soaks everything up. “
In particular, one interaction between Moss and Smith spoke volumes for Murphy, a former NFL wide receiver who runs the program. Moss had put together a group of skill players including Smith, Dee Eskridge (designed by the Seattle Seahawks), Anthony Schwartz (Cleveland Browns), Demetric Felton (Browns), and Dez Fitzpatrick (Tennessee Titans). Moss asked them an open question about how to decipher defensive cover. The normally calm Smith “took the call like he was Moss, so to speak,” Murphy said.
“Not in a disrespectful way. But just really confident … You have one of the best receivers in history and a lot of very talented other receivers that we had in our group. And the sovereign presence he had in the situation was very obvious, that he was different. “
“Maniac” against the “Slim Reaper”
Leonard, nicknamed “Maniac” for the energy he brings to the game, found a kindred spirit in Smith, also known as “Slim Reaper”.
Smith is an early riser and would be at the exercise facility at 6am to exercise. The only other person there at that hour was Leonard, who was training at Yo Murphy Performance during the off-season.
“He had the same mentality that he wanted to work,” said Leonard in the spring of coming in. ‘”
Whoever calls up Devonta Smith is going to have a special player!
– Darius Leonard (@ dsleon45) January 12, 2021
Smith added, “I’ve built a relationship too [Leonard] comes at this time. I knew if I was up there he would be up there. Being with him every morning, watching him train, some guy in the NFL, it worked for him – he just got paid [Leonard signed a five-year, $99 million contract extension in August] So seeing the work he put into it got him where he wanted to be. Being with a guy like him helped me so much during the process. “
Murphy, who played receivers in the NFL, CFL, XFL, and NFL Europe for over a decade before starting high-performance training, described Smith as “one of the most mature and caged athletes I’ve ever had”.
His favorite story about Smith came towards the end of their pre-draft training as the athletes were preparing for their pro days.
“We weren’t really distancing ourselves so I let the guys do a couple of sprints,” said Murphy. “They had five sprints and I wanted them to do the first three at about 65-75% and then for the last two I wanted them to get up and leave. And so I said, ‘Smitty, did you do it all? ‘ Speed sprints? And he says: ‘Coach, I always go full throttle.’ Not arrogant, but very factual.
“I just sat down and thought about it. Like he said, it wasn’t like he was cocky or anything, it was like I asked him if the sky was blue. For him it was like, ‘ What are you talking about? ‘”
That moss mentality
There are physiological explanations for why Smith is able to do what he does on the soccer field.
“He’s got such a mind-body awareness and mind-body connection,” Murphy said. “The impulses from his central nervous system are so well coordinated with the function of his muscles. The fluidity is ridiculous. He’s a guy who very rarely can be thrown off balance. He knows his center of gravity so well, and his body just returns to where it is structurally strong. This is a very unique thing even for top athletes. “
Even Smith’s ability to absorb corporal punishment despite his small body can be attributed to his “structural strength,” Murphy explained, from his bone mass to the way “he has his rib cage just above his hip.”
However, a lot has to do with mentality. This is what Moss focused on at Smith: the right mindset as a recipient. The way you wear yourself. The way you attack a defensive back. At 6 feet 4, 210 pounds, Moss faced some of the same durability questions that Marshall started, which made it easy to see parts of yourself in Smith.
“That was my mentality from [fighting against] the things they said I couldn’t do – don’t go through the middle, I wasn’t tough enough, wait till I do the first shot that goes through the middle – all the little things that the Naysayers said. I definitely see the similarities and I’m glad he does, “said Moss.
With all of the teachings Smith received, his greatest lesson was from assessing Moss.
“We’re both tall, skinny guys, just our physiques and the way we open up. That was what stuck in my mind the most,” said Smith. “A guy like him was a little taller than me, but the frame he had, if he can, I can do it.”
Moss sees traits in himself and Smith in common, from “how slippery he is on the verge of scrimmage” to how he’s able to part, to the way he’s “able to lean this little one.” to take nimble body and maneuver it “. and be able to stay away from that hard contact. “
Moss plans to continue working with Smith, focusing on making him physically stronger while eliminating weaknesses in his game.
“For me, it’s just more to make him hungry and thirsty with this young DeVonta and keep him hungry and thirsty every year to get better every year,” said Moss.