Can DeVonta Smith be the Eagles' first Rookie of the Year winner?

It would not be wise to count him out, despite Trevor Lawrence being the heavy favorite
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PHILADELPHIA – It’s going to be awfully difficult to overcome Trevor Lawrence for the NFL rookie of the year award.

The former Clemson quarterback has hype and opportunity on his side in Jacksonville, having been compared to John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck, with Jaguars coach Urban Meyer already on record saying there will be no competition for the starting QB job. It already belongs to Lawrence.

Counting out DeVonta Smith would not be wise, though.

Nobody gave him much of a chance to win the Heisman Trophy, because, well, not many WRs do it at the college level. Yet, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick won it with a season that saw him make 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns.

He became the first receiver to win the Heisman in 30 years. Michigan’s Desmond Howard was the last WR to do it, back in 1991t, and Smith was just the fourth ever to play that position to take home one of college’s football’s most prestigious awards.

“I think he’s sensational,” said NFL analyst Brian Baldinger told SI.com Eagle Maven during a recent episode of Eagles Unfiltered podcast.

“He’s one of those guys, you don’t really know how fast he is, he hasn’t really been timed, but you don’t see anybody catching him and then everybody wants to talk about, well, he’s 166 pounds, he’s gotta jump around in the shower just to get wet (but) he played 54 straight games at Alabama. You never saw him hurt. He caught everything. Then he went to minicamp and did the same thing, he raised eyebrows. I think DeVonta Smith is going to be a star.”

DeVonta Smith on June 4, 2021

DeVonta Smith on June 4, 2021

Certainly, the Eagles think so.

He was, according to Baldinger, one of the five players they targeted during the draft. The other being receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle along with cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn.

When those four were gone, the Eagles made the move up to No. 10, ahead for the Giants, to grab Smith. They didn’t care about his weight of 166 pounds.

“You want to look at it on paper, you want to make it a concern, but the SEC is as physical football as there is,” said Eagles WR coach Aaron Moorehead, during Tuesday’s videoconference with the media. “In the NFL, we know there are grown men in this league, we know that. It’s physical football, there are physical corners.

“Both of the corners that were taken ahead of him, he played against, one every day in practice, the other in games and you didn’t see any issues. Obviously, if we had a lot of concern, I don’t think he’d be here right now.”

Moorehead has some familiarity with Smith. While he was working as a WR coach at Texas A&M, he tried to lure Smith to A&M from his hometown in Louisiana.

“There’s so much to like about this guy,” said Moorehead. “…had a chance to visit his town, where’s from and you know that background part of it, which is cool. And you knew what he was built with then.

“To watch his career flourish, you see a guy catch the game-winning catch in the national championship game as a true freshman, that tells you all you need to know about somebody. The game’s not too big for him.”

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Asked about his leadership qualities in what is going to be a young receiving room, Moorehead said it hasn’t yet emerged, “but it’s there. It’s in him. 

"I think anybody that understands football, when you’re a top 10 pick, there’s something that comes with that as far as leadership and guys are going to look up to you in the room. If he plays well and does the things we expect him too, that’s going to come, but it’s in there naturally.”

The Eagles have had a grand total of 0 rookies of the year winners, and that includes both sides of the ball; 0 on offense, 0 on defense.

Meawnhile, Dallas has had three running backs - Calvin Hill, 1969; Tony Dorsett, 1977; and Emmitt Smith, 1990 and quarterback Dak Prescott in 2016. The Cowboys haven’t had any defensive players win the award.

New York has had two on offense (WR Odell Beckham Jr, 2014; RB Saquon Barkley, 2018) and one on defense (LB Lawrence Taylor, 1981). Beckham was the last WR to earn the award.

Washington has had two on offense (RB Mike Thomas, 1975; QB Robert Griffin III, 2012) and one on defense (DE Chase Young, 2020).

Could Smith be the Eagles' first?

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.