There are a lot of expectations that come with being a top 10 draft pick in the NFL, but even the most hyped players have their moments.
Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith opened Thursday’s practice with a rare drop during individual drills. With nobody defending him, Smith ran an intermediate out route and dropped a pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts, tumbling to the ground near the right sideline.
Wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead quickly offered Smith some words of encouragement, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner popped right up and got back in formation behind his teammates.
As the saying goes, NFL players need to have a short memory.
Smith exuded just that.
Roughly 30 minutes later, the Eagles’ top pick rebounded in a big way. With newly-acquired cornerback Steven Nelson lined up against him during 7-on-7′s, Smith applied a subtle stutter step at the line of scrimmage before blowing past Nelson on a go route. Quarterback Jalen Hurts noticed Smith applying the jets and hit him in stride down the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.
The crowd, which consists of hundreds of season ticket holders and invited guests, rattled off the loudest applause of the day.
“He’s getting smarter in his route running,” said safety K’Von Wallace, who also was in coverage on Smith’s highlight play. “He’s a guy that’s going to compete and catch everything. Seeing him grow is awesome. Today he had a nice deep ball that he caught for a touchdown. That’s a great thing to see. He did that in college, but seeing him in the NFL is really special.”
Smith displays an alpha personality whenever he’s on the field. During each drill, he leads a young receiver group, and Smith has taken nearly all of his reps from the WR1 spot. Nelson and Darius Slay, the team’s presumptive starting cornerbacks, have shadowed Smith during the first two days of training camp.
“That’s the type of thing you want coming in,” Smith said Wednesday. “Going against guys like that and test your skills. ... Ever since I stepped foot in Philadelphia, [my teammates] have welcomed me with open arms. Everybody is welcoming in and I feel comfortable.”
Smith, who is listed at 6-feet, 170 pounds, said he spent the 1½ months since minicamp concluded perfecting his craft. Leading up to the draft and during the recent break, Smith trained in Tampa with former NFL wide receiver Yo Murphy. Smith also worked out with Hurts a few times before the team reconvened in Philadelphia.
“Smitty is incredibly strong,” Murphy recently told The Inquirer. “We all know he’s going to create his space. He’s done it at every level. For Smitty, it’s about making every route look the same and dominating his catch radius. His strength will only help him elevate his game now in the league.”
The Eagles are hopeful the existing relationship and chemistry between Smith and Hurts will help accelerate Smith’s rookie learning curve and aid Hurts in his second season. Smith flourished in four years at Alabama, where he caught 235 passes for 3,965 yards and 46 touchdowns with an average of 16.9 yards per reception.
With the exception of 26-year-old Greg Ward, all of the Eagles receivers are 25 or younger. Considering the group’s overall youth and inexperience, Smith has an immediate opportunity to make an impact.
“Football is football,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, you learn concepts and not a specific spot. When it comes down to it, you know what everybody is doing.
“I’ve got to keep the main thing the main thing, know why I’m here, and focus on the task at hand.”