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‘Big-time player’ DeVonta Smith closes in on DeSean Jackson’s Eagles rookie record

Smith needs just 92 more receiving yards to top Jackson’s mark of 912 set in 2008. He has two games to do it.

Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith rejoices after scoring a touchdown on a 46-yard reception against the Giants.
Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith rejoices after scoring a touchdown on a 46-yard reception against the Giants.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

As a former wide receiver, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni enjoys drilling his wideouts in practice. His interest piques particularly when the receivers go through unorthodox drills, in which they are forced to make difficult or unusual catches.

It is during these instances when rookie DeVonta Smith excels.

“I love DeVonta and his work ethic and his mentality — everything he does,” quarterback Jalen Hurts said Wednesday afternoon. “He makes plays and does different things. He’ll high-point a ball or drag his toe in and secure a catch. Those are all remarkable things.

“Those are big-time things from a big-time player.”

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Those two specific scenarios Hurts mentioned — high-pointing and toe-dragging — were executed to perfection by Smith during the team’s 34-10 victory over the Giants on Sunday.

He hauled in his longest catch of the season in the second quarter when he outleaped Giants cornerback James Bradberry to secure a 46-yard reception. Later in the game, Smith dragged his feet inbounds on another difficult catch in front of the right sideline in the end zone. It was Smith’s second consecutive game with a toe-tap grab.

“I kind of felt like Michael Jackson,” Smith said of his latest highlight reception. He added: “With your momentum, you have to know how to have your feet and what you can do.”

Smith’s performance from Sunday was even more meaningful with his younger brother, Christian, in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field. Earlier this month, DeVonta traveled during the bye week to his native Louisiana, where he cheered on Christian and his alma mater, Amite High School, in the state Class 2A football championship game. This past weekend, Christian was able to return the favor — watching his older brother for the first time as a pro — and he also celebrated his 16th birthday with DeVonta, 23.

The elder Smith finished with five catches for 80 yards and one touchdown, upping his season total to 58 receptions for 821 yards and a team-best five receiving TDs.

The No. 10 pick in April’s NFL draft has quickly established himself as one of the team’s top offensive weapons. Smith is an alpha on the field. He is always the lead wideout to participate in individual drills and he can often be found at the front of the stretch line. Whenever wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead needs a player to help with a drill, Smith is the first one he turns to.

Sirianni became extremely animated while discussing the intricacies of repeating unusual catches in practice with Smith and the rest of the receivers.

“There is no telling how many reps you’ll get of dragging your feet in a team period,” Sirianni said. “So you try to simulate those things as much as you can. We have the sideline drag, traffic catches, low balls, high balls, behind balls, over the shoulder, over the shoulder where you turn your shoulder and catch it over the other side.

“You try to put yourself in as many scenarios as you possibly can before the game so that it’s natural. It’s grown over the years of the type of catch you can do, and we just try to put our guys in the position of doing that. You’ve just got to pepper balls at them all the time, over and over and over again.”

As last year’s Heisman Trophy award winner, Smith naturally has plenty of jaw-dropping catches already stacked in his bag. With two regular-season games remaining, he is within striking distance of breaking the franchise record for most receiving yards during a rookie season — set by DeSean Jackson in 2008, when he finished with 62 catches for 912 yards.

Smith needs just 92 more yards to top Jackson’s mark. The rookie is also reasonably within reach of eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards. He needs 179 more yards with two games against Washington and the Cowboys looming.

“DeVonta has been really good on the back line and on the sideline all year,” Sirianni said. " He’s just been really good and clean with his footwork on the sideline for his first year. He’s a technician. DeVonta works endless hours to do that.”