DeVonta Smith, after a solid rookie season, is ready to ascend to the top of the wide receiver rankings in 2022.
The Philadelphia Eagles made the bone-headed decision to take Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the 2020 NFL Draft. After a number of swings-and-misses in the years prior, it started to feel like the Eagles were cursed when it came to drafting early wide receivers. Then the 2021 NFL Draft happened.
The Eagles opened the event with the No. 12 overall pick at their disposal. They watched as both Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle went off the board within the first six selections. A few picks later, Howie Roseman decided to make his move. He phoned their hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys, and ended up moving up to No. 10 overall to select the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith.
Finally! The Eagles had themselves a star prospect at wide receiver. The move immediately paid dividends, as the former Alabama standout was the only wide receiver on the roster to eclipse 650 yards. The aforementioned Reagor failed to even reach 300 yards, cementing his status as a major bust. But who cares, the Eagles have Smith now and thanks to a blockbuster trade this off season, that’s not all.
AJ Brown had been in search of a monster contract extension, and the Tennessee Titans were not willing to make a commitment of that stature. The Eagles swooped in, happily sending the No. 18 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft for the proven commodity at wide receiver. Upon finalizing the trade, Brown and the franchise immediately agreed on a four-year, $100 million extension. Talk about a win-win situation.
DeVonta Smith will undoubtedly benefit from the addition of Brown to the offense. Defenses must shift their focus to both players, rather than zeroing in on Smith like they did in 2021. Brown is a solid route runner, but he’s magical with the ball in his hands. This blends perfectly with Smith, as he’s already one of the best route runners in the entire league. Dallas Goedert will also take focus off of Smith by eating up the middle of the field on short-to-intermediate routes.
The guy throwing the football will ultimately determine just how far Smith ascends in 2022. Jalen Hurts unexpectedly led the team to a playoff appearance last season, but he cannot lean on that coming into the new campaign. Most of Hurts’ effectiveness came as a runner, which is highlighted by his abysmal completion percentage. Hurts ranked 27th in the NFL in that category. Not good.
As was stated, however, there wasn’t a lot to work with in 2021. It cannot be overstated how big of a move it was to add AJ Brown to the roster. He commands respect from every level of the defense, and should help Hurts out by getting open quickly and doing much of the damage with his legs. In doing so, he will free up Smith to dice cornerbacks up on the outside.
In order for Smith to truly reach his full potential, it will come down to Hurts and his development as a passer. While researching this article, I rewatched All-22’s of the Philadelphia offense from last season. It sounds hyperbolic, but Smith was legitimately open more times than he wasn’t. The issue is, Hurts struggles with anticipation on his throws.
Oftentimes, Smith would come clean out of his break after a pristine route, and Hurts either already tucked it and ran or he missed the window and the timing was completely off. He must become more trusting of Smith and all of his receivers. In the NFL, a guy isn’t always wide open when the ball leaves the quarterbacks’ hand. You have to know where the receiver will be when he comes out of his break.
An entire off season of work should help the offense. The timing will be better all around, and with the addition of AJ Brown, the team won’t be forced to be so run-centric. Don’t get me wrong, with their offensive line, the run game will still be the focal point. However, the balance that they lacked was clear as day when they met the Buccaneers in the playoffs. Brown’s addition and Smith’s ascension will take the unit to new heights in 2022.