PHILADELPHIA – It’s early, like first-quarter early, but Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is off to a good start.
On Thursday night, in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, he landed the prolific playmaker this team needs. And he did so by staying true to the draft board pieced together by his scouting staff and VP of player personnel Andy Weidl.
“We stuck to our board on this,” said Roseman. “This is a guy whose grade stuck out. This was one of the top players in the draft for the Eagles. We thought it was a great player and we didn't want to bypass that to fill a need.”
Roseman got it right, for one night, anyway. He didn’t overthink it.
There are still 10 more picks to make, so let’s see what happens Friday night and Saturday.
Let’s see if they can ride this momentum and have the kind of draft the Eagles had in 2002 when they took Lite Sheppard, Michael Lewis, Sheldon Brown, and Brian Westbrook in rounds one through four. Ironically, that was also the year the Eagles drafted their last player from Alabama, taking WR Freddie Milons in the fifth round.
Smith will be better than Milons. Book it.
He’s the home run this offense needs.
The Eagles haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jeremy Maclin in 2014. In a pass-happy league, that is simply unacceptable.
Smith could be the next one. Heck, last year's first-round pick Jalen Reagor could be the next one, too.
Let’s face it, though, Roseman was going to take some heat regardless of who he took, and taking receivers in back-to-back first-rounds is one criticism I would have.
Some won’t be happy that they had to do business for a second straight year with their archrival Dallas Cowboys to jump up two spots, going from 12 to 10 to take Smith.
Then there’s the weight issue. He’s 166 pounds and a shade above 6-feet.
“He sure as heck doesn't play like a guy like you're talking about with that size,” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “Play strength, I see a ton of play strength and toughness. Play strength and toughness is what I see with DeVonta over and over and over again.”
Weidl pointed to Smith’s numbers as a reason not to be alarmed about the size issue.
“When we watched him play, when I watched him play, what I saw was a guy with length and a guy with toughness," he said. "You catch 117 passes (in 2020) in the SEC, you're doing something right. You set the SEC record for career touchdown receptions (46), you're doing something right.
“But even more so, whenever his team needed him, he stepped up. The moment was never too big for him. You saw in different situations this year, Jaylen Waddle went down, he steps up his game and showed up in big moments. It was never too big for him. He was a clutch player for the Crimson Tide.”
Roseman had to make a move to get him.
The New York Giants were going to take Smith with the 11th pick. When the Eagles foiled their plans, New York moved down to No. 20 and ended up taking Florida WR Kadarius Toney.
Last year, Roseman traded down in the fourth round with the Cowboys, allowing Dallas to take center Tyler Biadasz. This year, the Cowboys took Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons after moving back to 12.
“I think when you're dealing with the draft, you’ve got to do what's best for your team, and obviously they thought this was the best move for their team and that's why they did it,” said Roseman. “They got who they wanted, and we got who we wanted, and it's always been a good relationship. It's respect for their organization and certainly Mr. Jones, Jerry, and Steven. We have a lot of respect for them as well, competing against them.”
One could even say that Roseman got it right back on March 26 when he chose to collect a first-round draft pick in 2022 from the Miami Dolphins to move down six spots from 6 to 12 while also picking up the Dolphins’ fourth-round pick this year, an area of the draft that the Eagles didn’t have a pick but do now after that move.
The belief was that the two perceived most prolific offensive weapons – Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase – would be gone by pick 6, and they were when Pitts went 4 to the Falcons and Chase went 5 to the Bengals.
So Roseman is off to a good start in this draft. For one night, he got it right.
Now, let’s see how he builds off this momentum over the next two days.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven 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.