PHILADELPHIA – Novice catcher DeVonta SmithThe NFL career is off to a fast start.
The No. 10 pick in the 2021 draft leads the Philadelphia Eagles in receptions (25) and receiving yards (314), ranking second among rookies in both categories behind his former teammate. Jaylen waddle (27 receptions) with the Miami Dolphins and Ja’Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals (456 yards).
Smith will be in the national spotlight Thursday night when the Eagles host quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8:20 pm ET, Fox / NFL Network).
Smith didn’t sneak up on anyone. The Eagles traded in the April draft to select him after a Heisman Trophy season in which he led the NCAA in receptions (117), receiving yards (1,856) and receiving touchdowns (23) for Alabama.
However, there were some concerns about how he would transition to the NFL given his 6-foot, 170-pound frame. The seven previous receivers selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft were two inches taller and about 40 pounds heavier (6-foot-2, 212 pounds average), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The last receiver selected who weighed less than 180 pounds was Tavon austin, who hasn’t started a game in the last three seasons and hasn’t surpassed five touchdown receptions in a single season.
But those who spent time with Smith during his pre-mix and draft prep work at Yo Murphy Performance in Tampa, Florida, were far from concerned: a distinguished group that included professional American Football Hall of Fame receiver Randy. Moss and linebacker Derrick Brooks, as well as Pro Bowl linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts Darius leonard. From the way Smith trained to the way he moved to his deep understanding of the game, it was evident that Smith was unique.
“When you’re young, you play with excitement and energy,” Moss said. “You rarely find a guy who wants to be a student of the game at a young age. And I think that’s what he wants to be.”
Making an impression on Moss
Smith’s explosiveness and ability to break away from defenders are obvious, but it was his strong desire to learn and improve despite his achievements at the college level that really hit Moss, who is part of the draft preparation program. by Yo Murphy. When he arrived in Tampa in January, Smith was coming off surgery to repair a dislocated finger suffered in the national title game. He wasn’t cleared to catch passes and couldn’t even practice his 40-yard dash early on because his injured finger was on his supporting hand.
“I couldn’t run routes,” Moss said, “so he said, ‘Is it okay if I just come and stay and listen?’ That impressed me the most because you’re down there in the heat for an hour and a half or two and he’s just sitting there, soaking it all up. “
One particular interaction between Moss and Smith said a lot to Murphy, a former NFL wide receiver who runs the show. Moss had assembled a group of skill players that included Smith, Dee Eskridge (drafted by the Seattle Seahawks), Anthony Schwartz (Cleveland Cafes), Demetric Felton (Browns) and Dez Fitzpatrick (Tennessee Titans). Moss asked them an open question on how to decipher defensive coverage. The normally quiet Smith “took over the conversation like he was Moss,” Murphy said.
“Not in a disrespectful way. But really self-confident … You have one of the best receivers in history and many other very talented receivers that we had in our group. And the commanding presence he had in that situation, it was very evident. that he was different. “
‘Maniac’ versus ‘Slim Reaper’
Leonard, nicknamed “Maniac” for the energy he brings to the game, found a kindred spirit in Smith, also known as “Slim Reaper.”
Smith is an early riser and would arrive at the training facility at 6 am to exercise. The only other person who would be there at that time would be Leonard, who works out at Yo Murphy Performance in the offseason.
“He had the same mindset, he wanted to work,” Leonard said this spring. “He has that winning mentality, and it was good to see some young talent come in there and push me: ‘OK, this is the young talent coming.'”
Whoever chooses Devonta Smith will have a special player!
– Darius Leonard (@ dsleon45) January 12, 2021
Smith added: “I established a relationship with [Leonard] coming at that time. I knew that if I was going to be there, he would be there. Being with him every morning, seeing the way he trains, a guy like that in the NFL, you see it worked for him, they just paid him [Leonard signed a five-year, $99 million contract extension in August] – so seeing the work he did got him where he wanted to be. Being around a guy like him helped me a lot through the process. “
Murphy, who played wide receiver for more than a decade in the NFL, CFL, XFL and NFL Europe before entering high-performance training, called Smith “one of the most mature and locked-in athletes I’ve ever had.”
His favorite story about Smith came toward the end of his pre-draft training, as athletes were preparing for their pro days.
“We hadn’t really pushed our distance, so I had the guys do some sprints,” Murphy said. “They had five sprints, and I wanted them to do the first three at 65-75% and then for the last two, I wanted them to get up and go. So I said, ‘Smitty, have you done your? Are there still sprints? And he says, ‘Coach, I’m always at full speed.’ Not in an arrogant way, but in fact.
“I just sat down and thought about it. How did he put it, it wasn’t him being arrogant or anything, it was like asking him if the sky was blue. To him, it was like, ‘What are you talking about?'”
That moss mentality
There are physiological explanations for why Smith can do what he does on the football field.
“He has such a mind-body awareness and a mind-body connection,” Murphy said. “The impulses from his central nervous system are so in tune with his muscle function. The fluidity is ridiculous. He’s a guy who’s rarely going to lose his balance. He understands his center of mass so well.” , and your body just goes back to where it is structurally strong. It’s something very unique even at the highest level of athletes. “
Even Smith’s ability to absorb physical punishment despite his small frame can be attributed to being “structurally strong,” Murphy explained, from his bone mass to the way he “has his rib cage directly over his hip.”
However, much of it has to do with mindset. That’s what Moss focused on with Smith: the right receiver mentality. The way you behave. The way he attacks a defensive back. At 6ft 4in and 210lbs, Moss faced some of the same questions about Marshall’s durability, making it easy to see parts of himself in Smith.
“That was my mentality of [fighting against] the things they said I couldn’t do – don’t cross the middle, I wasn’t strong enough, wait until I take the first shot across the middle – all the little things the naysayers said. I definitely see the similarities and I’m glad he sees them too, “Moss said.
Despite all the teachings Smith received, his best conclusion came from evaluating Moss.
“We’re both long, skinny guys, just our bodies and the way we open up. That was what stuck with me the most,” Smith said. “A guy like him, he was a little bigger than me, but the body he had, if he can do it, I can do it.”
Moss sees common traits in him and Smith, from “how slick he is on the line of scrimmage” to the way he’s able to pull away and the way he’s “able to take that lean, lithe little body and be able to to maneuver it. and be able to stay away from that hard contact. “
Moss plans to continue working with Smith, focusing on strengthening him physically while addressing weaknesses in his game.
“For me, just being around this young DeVonta is more about keeping him hungry and thirsty for more knowledge, and keeping him hungry and thirsty to get better every year,” Moss said.