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DeVonta Smith 2021 Fantasy Outlook, Dynasty Value as Eagles’ Target-Hog

The Philadelphia Eagles traded up from No. 12 to No. 10 in the 2021 draft to snag DeVonta Smith, reuniting him with Alabama alum Jalen Hurts.

Smith comes into the NFL with a ludicrous amount of swagger, and it’s easy to see why. Despite concern that the 6-foot, 174-pounder may not be built to last in the pro game, Smith has elite attributes that made him rise to not just an Alabama legend, but also the “Greatest College Receiver Ever” by The Ringer’s Ben Glicksman.

Ridiculous stat lines against top college defenses were the norm in 2020. His 12-215-3 line in one half against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship will be cemented in history. But let’s not forget 7-130-3 in the Semifinal against Notre Dame, 15-184-2 against Florida, 7-171-2 versus Auburn, and 11-167-2 versus Georgia.

The new heights Smith reached last season not only outshined his highly-touted teammates like Jerry JeudyHenry RuggsJaylen Waddle, and Calvin Ridley, but his college career also outshined Julio Jones and Amari Cooper as Alabama’s best receiver ever under Nick Saban, finishing No. 1 in career receptions (235), receiving yards (3,750) and TDs (43).

“We asked all the SEC guys who the best player they played against was over the last couple of months,” said one NFC executive to MMQB’s Albert Breer. “All of them, every one, said DeVonta. And the Bama guys all said, ‘He’s the best football player I’ve ever been around.'”

And don’t forget his Heisman Trophy nod. Granted, not all Heisman winners pan out in the NFL. Take Mr. Personal Responsibility here, for example:

So what makes Devonta’s Heisman so special? Because wide receivers just don’t get them. It was the first time since Desmond Howard in 1991 that a receiver got the award.

But, what’s stopping Devonta from becoming the WR bust that Desmond Howard turned out to be?

Howard only caught an abysmal 46.8% of his looks for his career. His worst year came in ’94, when he caught only 38.8% of his career-high 103 targets.

But watch DeVonta, his instincts for the ball are undeniable:

SIZE CONCERNS?

Merrill Reese has called the play-by-play for the Eagles for a half-century, and just through OTA’s and rookie minicamp, Smith already reminds him of the best he’s seen from Eagles’ past and present.

“In 50 years, I’ve seen a lot of wide receivers and I’ve seen great ones like Harold Carmichal, who’s going into the Hall of Fame, and my partner in the booth, Mike Quick, who went to five Pro Bowls. So I’ve seen great receivers,” Reese said. “But I’ve never seen a receiver that makes my jaw drop the way that he does.

“Keep in mind that Mike and Harold were unbelievable talents but they weren’t blazingly fast. This guy is blazingly fast and looks like he has springs on the bottom of his shoes the way he goes up. And he may be 6-1 1/2 but he has catch radius of somebody 6-4.”

According to Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Pro Football Network, “In 2020, Smith succeeded to a point where NFL evaluators can safely look past his size constraints.” Pauline also notes that Smith’s elite route running is paired just as much with the psychological game, as “he’s also incredibly proactive in using subtle, brisk movements to confuse defenders.”

Smith’s slight frame has admittedly been a chip on his shoulder:

“I’m not the biggest,” Smith said during his Heisman acceptance speech. “I’ve been doubted a lot just because of my size. And really, it just comes down to, you put your mind to it, you can do it. No job is too big. If you put your mind to it, you can do it.”

‘Bama coach Nick Saban seconds the notion of Smith’s drive overcoming concerns over his size:

“I would first off have to say that I think his performance speaks for itself,” Saban said. “I’ll be honest with you, when we recruited DeVonta Smith he weighed 159 pounds.

“I wished he was bigger,” Saban continued. “And now he weighs 170 pounds and I think people at the next level are probably saying ‘I wish he was bigger.’ But saying all that to say this: there are bigger people who don’t perform anywhere near how he performs. There are people that are bigger than him that don’t have the competitive spirit that he has nor the competitive toughness.”

Furthermore, new head coach Nick Sirianni plans to utilize Smith’s off-the-charts football IQ and elite footwork to move him around the formation to generate mismatches.

“What we see in DeVonta is the ability to move around,” Sirianni said. “I saw a very high football IQ in him when we did our meetings with him. He was able to explain his offense in great detail, what he was doing, what his quarterback was doing, what his other receivers were doing. So he definitely gives us that option and position flexibility. He’s able to play inside, he’s able to play outside.”

Routine comparisons to Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice further make a case for what type of ceiling we could see for DeVonta’s career. For dynasty leagues, talent takes more precedent in ADP considerations than in redraft, since a player like Smith can have a long, productive career in a multitude of coaching schemes and surrounding talent.

The Wolf comes in as the WR2, and 4th overall (same as ECR) in our 2021 Rookie Rankings. Yet despite the mammoth hype, Wolf (WR22) and the experts (WR26) aren’t giving him a Hall of Fame ranking for dynasty startup drafts.  Understanding the situation he was drafted into will help us understand why, as well as how we should gauge his 2021 redraft value.

A DUAL-THREAT QB & HISTORY OF UNDERWHELMING WR PRODUCTION

Every season since 2016, the Eagles’ leader in catches-per-game has been a tight end. It’s been Zach Ertz up until last year when Dallas Goedert took the reins. And even then, Ertz tied for second with receiver Greg Ward, at a modest 3.3.

Smith comes in with a clear path to becoming the alpha-WR on day one with Philly as much as he would with any other team, but recency bias raises concern that being the alpha on this team doesn’t mean as much fantasy value as being an alpha on many other NFL squads.

However, with the departure of Doug Pederson, this article from Eagles beat writer Reuben Frank gives reason to believe that Sirianni could bring change to boost Philly’s offense.

Not only did Jalen Hurts have a banged-up offensive line in 2020, but Sirianni’s gameplans are projected to be “big on creating matchup advantages and getting the football quickly into the hands of play-makers on high-percentage throws and letting them make plays down the field.” This would indicate more plays-per-game and a boon for a player like DeVonta who can create quick separation.

Afraid of Hurts only completing 52-percent of his passes last year?

The aforementioned article offers several examples of rookie QBs hitting their stride after their rookie seasons, and comparing them to the rest of their career. There’s Josh Allen of course, but also Matthew Stafford (53 percent to 63 percent), or Andrew Luck (54 to 62). Or, there’s always Peyton Manning (56 to 66), who threw more INTs (28) than TDs (26) his rookie season.

Or, there’s this helpful story about Hurts’ accuracy during his time at Oklahoma, including this nugget:

Jalen’s rookie passing numbers are certainly no indictment on how he’ll be during his pro tenure. And even though he had 12.6 rushes-per-game in the full three games he played, his 37.6 pass attempts-per-game would’ve been good for the 11th highest number over the course of the 2020 season.

There is potential for DeVonta to overcome the concerns of a QB who can run, and the past lack of receiving production could be much more due to lack of talent than a coaching scheme that isn’t even there anymore.

In fact, lack of surrounding receiver talent could be the most prominent reason to dampen Smith’s fantasy ceiling, more of a factor than being a rookie under a first-time head coach. If Jalen Reagor can’t make a jump in year two, if Zach Ertz is, somed-a-a-y-y, cut or traded, there isn’t a lot to scare defenses outside of Dallas Goedert. And that would leave defenses freedom to devote more attention to stopping Devonta.

Still, Smith should be a major upgrade to a receiver room that accumulated only 2,082 receiving yards last season — the third-fewest in the league.

DeVonta Smith comes in as The Wolf’s WR30 (+10 vs ECR) and 69th overall (+29 vs ECR) on The 2021 Redraft Rankings and Big Board.

So maybe this Heisman Trophy winner has a few obstacles in his way before “star” becomes “superstar”, but the arrow points upward, towards a career more like a 1987 Heisman hoister in HOF’er Tim Brown than Desmond Howard or, well, you know…

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  • Driven by profit, has the lobes for business. Prioritizes anchors as part of a diversified portfolio. Seeks to be the first hue-mon to become the Grand Nagus. On Twitter @ChaseM_G

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