Each week, the entire Eagles roster sits in a team meeting and watches some highlight plays from the previous game.
As you’d imagine, there was a lot of DeVonta Smith this week.
“It’s amazing,” fellow receiver Zach Pascal said. “I can’t wait to see what happens next every time the ball comes.”
To Smith, watching those highlight plays of himself is just a part of the meeting. He shrugs it off. The sometimes-shy second-year receiver doesn’t necessarily get embarrassed by everyone ogling his spectacular plays, but he doesn’t get much out of it.
In a way, he prefers to see his mistakes up there in front of the group, even as infrequent as they are.
“Because I know the good things,” Smith explained. “The good things, I know what they are. The bad things, there could be things that you necessarily didn’t think you did wrong but you did wrong, you messed up a play. That probably means more just because there’s little stuff you don’t see that could affect the play.”
If there was ever any question about Smith’s trajectory in the NFL, he’s answered them this year, especially in the last few weeks.
DeVonta Smith has arrived. And he’s not done yet.
While Smith has spent plenty of his second NFL season in the shadow of A.J. Brown, he went over 1,000 yards in the loss in Dallas on Christmas Eve and did it in spectacular fashion with acrobatic catches, clutch moments and the kind of precision route-running that still wows his teammates.
“It’s amazing. It’s just fun to watch,” Brown said. “Those are some big catches. We needed those and he was coming in clutch.”
Had the Eagles managed to win that game with their backup quarterback, the biggest story coming out of the weekend would have been about the play of Smith.
“It’s pretty freaky, man,” third-string quarterback Ian Book said. “We always talk about it as quarterbacks, how easy it is when you have receivers that don’t lose. You can talk about progressions, you can talk about reads. At the end of the day, I can also take A.J. 1-on-1 because it’s not 50-50. But then with DeVonta, every week making a spectacular catch.
“He does it every week. He does it in practice too. It just makes the quarterback’s job so much easier. You feel like, ‘Damn, this isn’t a good ball’ and then he goes and gets it.”
Some of Smith’s teammates have a favorite catch from Saturday’s performance in Dallas. But Smith declined to pick his own favorite.
“Honestly,” he said, “it don’t matter because we ain’t win.”
But that level of play from Smith does matter. It’ll matter when the Eagles get into the playoffs in a few weeks. And it’ll matter over what the Eagles hope will be a long and productive NFL career for Smith.
In the last four games, Smith has really hit a different gear.
Smith has six games with 100+ yards in his young career and three of them have come this December. In the month, he already has 23 catches for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns. It’s the second best December in franchise history behind just Brown this year with 27/473/3.
Sure, Smith came into the NFL as the No. 10 pick, Heisman Trophy winner and a pro-ready receiver. But he’s also really enjoying the process of perfecting his craft. And his veteran teammates see that all the time.
“Oh man, that boy, it’s almost like he’s been in the league for a while now with how he attacks the game,” Pascal said. “His schedule and getting his body right, having his body ready for each game. The details in his routes. You can see it. It ain’t no rookie or second-year type receiver. He actually puts in the work and his passion is as mature as any vet in this league.”
Those body control catches made the highlight reels this week but it’s Smith’s route-running that still impresses his teammates the most.
“As I’ve been saying from Day 1, route running,” Brown said. “The way he runs routes, it’s incredible. It’s an art to watch.”
And it’s what Smith tries his best to keep improving.
He watches a few other great route runners around the league and is always ready to incorporate what he sees into his own game. Even when he’s scrolling through social media, Smith pauses to watch great route running. It’s constantly on his mind.
And it’s something his own teammates ask him about quite often. They are always eager to learn from one of the best.
That’s why as impressive as those acrobatic catches are, the part of Smith’s game that his teammates love to point out is his ability to run routes.
“I’d say route running. He’s great at both,” tight end Grant Calcaterra said. “But it’s just really impressive to see him create separation and use his body. Because he’s such a skinny dude and the way he is able to use his body and be so powerful and so quick is impressive.”
There’s no question that Smith had an impressive rookie season in 2021, narrowly breaking DeSean Jackson’s Eagles rookie record for receiving. But Smith was definitely a little disappointed he didn’t surpass the 1,000-yard mark last season.
He is up to 79 catches for 1,014 yards and 7 touchdowns in Year 2. Hitting 1,000 yards was meaningful but — and this should be no surprise — he isn’t resting on that.
“Yeah, definitely. That was one of my goals,” Smith said. “Checked that one off. Really just build off it and keep going. The season is not over with.”
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