Eagles overreactions: DeVonta Smith is very clearly a future star

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Eagles overreactions: How a key weapon silenced doubters originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles lost a pretty good game to the Chargers on Sunday evening, squandering a halftime lead and falling to one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL.

It was an extremely winnable game for a team in desperate need of a win if they want to reach the postseason, but it wasn't a bad loss. There were some good things to take away from the L.

So let's overreact to the ninth game of the year:

1. The Eagles finally found a franchise wide receiver

DeVonta Smith is the real deal, and on Sunday he reminded everyone they should stop sleeping on him. 

Immediately.

The No. 10 overall pick has been hamstrung by a below-average quarterback all season long, and has had some question marks tossed his way during his rookie campaign by those who've been underwhelmed by his counting numbers and some suspect drops - myself included.

But on Sunday against the Chargers, Smith was wide open all day long and Jalen Hurts was thankfully able to find him for a change, hitting the rookie wideout for five catches, 116 yards, and one touchdown.

If you were doubting the young man's franchise wideout potential, you might want to walk it back.

Although, to be fair, Howie Roseman and the Eagles' recent history of drafting WRs was pretty terrifying. Here's a quick look at the previous five years of drafts in terms of finding franchise-level pass-catchers:

2020

  • 1st Round - Jalen Reagor - Not very good

  • 5th Round - John Hightower - Not very good

  • 6th Round - Quez Watkins - Good, but a very limited skillset

2019

  • 2nd Round - JJ Arcega-Whiteside - Not very good

2018

  • No wide receivers

2017

  • 4th Round - Mack Hollins - Not very good

  • 6th Round - Shelton Gibson - Not very good

2016

  • No wide receivers

That's ugly! So as Smith had a few struggles early on, it's frankly excusable if you were a little down on the Alabama product.

But he's so smooth in his routes. He's always, always open, just out-executing defensive backs on every snap. His footwork on the sidelines is A-plus. And he's going to be carving up opponents for years to come.

2. Jordan Howard is teaching the Eagles a lesson

No, the Eagles shouldn't build the franchise's future around Jordan Howard. But they should pay attention to what his success the last two weeks represents.

Howard is not a dynamic, game-changing running back like a Christian McCaffrey, nor is he a bell cow bulldozer like Derrick Henry. But he's a physical, hard-nosed runner who gets yards almost every time he touches the ball, and rarely if ever loses yards.

Miles Sanders is a fine running back, but he's too focused on breaking an 80-yarder every time he carries the ball. Boston Scott is a bowling ball, but he's not a true starting running back. And Kenneth Gainwell is a fascinating pass catcher out of the backfield.

Howard takes what the defense gives him, hammers opposing defenders, and extends runs by keeping his legs moving.

Yet as the Eagles shuffled through their running back failures in the first seven weeks of the season, they seemed to forget that it's helpful to have complementary styles in the backfield. A runner like Howard makes opposing defenses respect the run much more than a danc-y back like Sanders, which in turn opens up the play action and the passing game. 

It's great to double-down on the best players available, but the Eagles also need to remember that having variety is a plus in the NFL. They have a similar problem at wide receiver, with three not-very-big wide receivers as their three main pass-catchers in DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Quez Watkins. This offseason they need a big-bodied wideout, someone like the Chargers' Mike Williams, so opposing defenses have to do more than one thing well to counter your strengths. 

You have 53 roster spots every Sunday. Use them to mix things up!

3. Yes, Nick Sirianni is figuring things out

Despite the 3-6 record, I like what I've seen from Nick Sirianni over the last couple weeks.

The first-year head coach has shown a lot of growth over the last few weeks compared to his trouble spots in the beginning of the season, and as I mentioned in this space last week, his ability to grow as the season's gone along is a good sign.

But I really thought his work this week was representative of the way he's figuring out how to stay competitive, and the best example came in the third quarter.

After the Chargers took a 16-10 lead, the Eagles started a drive at their own 15-yard line. The pass-happy Sirianni of, say, Week 3 probably would've lost it and started telling Hurts to throw the ball all over the field in an attempt to score and catch up to the Chargers.

Instead, Sirianni started the drive with a run play and went on to call an even five-run, five-pass, 10-play drive that went 85 yards for a touchdown to take a one-point lead. That was exactly what I wanted to see from Sirianni as a playcaller. This is his first time in charge of a team's plays, so there were bound to be hiccups in the early going. This drive, and what Sirianni has largely done for a few weeks now, has me encouraged about the future. Give him a little more talent and maybe the guy can start to put a really intriguing offense together.

Sirianni has also been doing better with in-game decisions. There were some questionable moves earlier this year, like that first-quarter timeout in the red zone before a field goal, but today Sirianni showed a nice game-managing prowess that comes with more experience. At the end of the first half, Sirianni recognized the Chargers were out of timeouts and, knowing that he didn't want to give Justin Herbert any unnecessary opportunities to score before halftime, managed to milk the clock and still come away with three points. 

It was good stuff from a coach learning on the job, and I'm excited to see what else he can do as the season goes on.

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