The Eagles will start the preseason without their No. 1 wide receiver.
DeVonta Smith has a sprained MCL, a source close to Smith confirmed. The team’s first-round pick in April’s NFL draft is expected to miss 2-3 weeks and the Eagles have him listed as “week to week.”
Smith left practice Saturday after making a low catch and coming up moving gingerly. He stayed on the sideline for the remainder of the session and walked off the field on his own power once practice was over.
Smith will likely miss the Eagles’ preseason opener on Aug. 12 against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. If he’s able to return closer to the two-week mark, there’s a chance he could be back in time for the Aug. 19 home game against the New England Patriots. The Eagles finish the preseason on Aug. 27 on the road against the New York Jets. If the Eagles’ coaching staff chooses to sit its starters for the preseason finale in order to get more reps for players on the roster bubble, Smith’s return to game action could wait until the Sept. 12 season opener at Atlanta.
The Eagles drafted Smith 10th overall with the intention of having him immediately step in as the No. 1 receiver for a group that struggled most of last season. He was in the midst of a mostly positive training camp with a handful of highlights, including a deep touchdown reception from Jalen Hurts on the second day of camp.
Before Smith’s injury was announced, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said he’d been impressed with the work the 6-foot, 175-pound receiver had put in during the early days of camp.
“The thing about DeVonta, his releases off the line of scrimmage for a young player are super impressive,” Steichen said. “Like, it’s rare to see the way he gets off the line of scrimmage. His first step and his jab to create that separation, I mean, that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen from him, along with his speed and his route-running ability. It’s been very impressive.”
Smith is coming off a year in which he won the Heisman Trophy with 117 catches for 1,856 yards and scored 24 total touchdowns. The former Alabama star is the notable addition to a receiving corps that was one of the least productive in the NFL last season.
Travis Fulgham, who started just eight games after beginning the season on the practice squad, led the team in receiving yards with 539 yards, which ranked 82nd in the NFL. Jalen Reagor, the team’s first-round pick in 2020, dealt with injuries to start the season and struggled to make an impact, catching 31 passes for 396 yards and one touchdown.
Much has been made of Smith’s chemistry with Hurts since the pair spent two seasons together before the latter transferred to Oklahoma, but it’s worth pointing out the two haven’t played together since 2018.
When asked how much of a detriment losing time with his top receiver could be, Hurts conceded it’s not ideal but said Smith’s off-field studying will help compensate.
“Smitty’s a pretty smart guy,” Hurts said. “It’s always valuable to have somebody in practice and on the grass and to get those reps in and all that, but in due time he’ll be back and we’re going to continue to get better in other aspects as much we can. We’ll never stop growing and never stop attacking.”
Receiver injury issues
For a team that has weathered persistent injuries at wide receiver the last few seasons, this has been a dubious start to training camp. Injuries have impacted the position each day of training camp, and Reagor missed part of the first four practices with “lower-body tightness.” The Inquirer reported that the 22-year-old failed a conditioning test, and that he wasn’t physically or mentally ready for the test after a childhood friend was murdered during the offseason.
Reagor was a full participant on Monday for the first time, but he hasn’t gotten any reps alongside Smith during team drills.
On Monday, Reagor led the receiving groups during the team periods, with Fulgham, Greg Ward, and Quez Watkins all getting first-team reps as well.
Watkins had a strong practice, beating cornerback Steven Nelson for a deep touchdown pass from Hurts during seven-on-seven, then scoring a touchdown on a screen from about 20 yards out during team drills.
“I’m excited about the whole group, to be honest,” Steichen said. “These guys are very talented, so we have to get everyone rolling and on the same page, and we’re excited about it.”
Staff writer Josh Tolentino contributed to this article.