PHILADELPHIA - The physical gifts of star players in the NFL are the obvious parts of the equation but all the difference makers in the league have something extra, an intangible that gives them a leg up on their peers.
It might be as something as simple as competitiveness or work ethic. In the case of DeVonta Smith, the secret sauce that turned the 166-pound skinny kid from Louisiana into a Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama and the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft may have been his maturity.
Smith doesn't act like the typical 22-year-old, whether it's worrying about his mother engaging in a job as a social worker that could get dangerous, making sure his brother is close by in order to keep him out of trouble, or waking at 6 a.m. to work on getting the most out of his slight frame.
“I was always kind of mature,” Smith told SI.com's Eagle Maven via conference call on Wednesday as he arrived in Philadelphia ahead of Friday's rookie minicamp. “... That’s just how I always was because I was always by myself a lot. I feel like I’m a very independent person, I never really depended on anybody to do anything for me.
“That’s how my mom is, that’s how my dad is, so that’s how I am.”
Smith arrives in Philadelphia with enormous expectations stemming from his historic final season with the Crimson Tide coupled with the Eagles' significant need at the WR position after consecutive years in which no wideout on the team even mustered 600 yards.
Add in the fact that Philadelphia leapfrogged the New York Giants to get Smith and passed on a potential future superstar at the game's most important position in Justin Fields and you can see the land mines ahead.
Smith, though, is unfazed after outperforming everyone in perhaps the greatest WR room in college football history with Alabama, a group which at one point included Smith, No. 6 overall section in 2020 Jaylen Waddle and two 2019 first-round picks in Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy.
“As a receiver, your job is to get open and catch the ball,” Smith said. “So the way you get open is by running good routes, good technique, and things like that, I mean, catching the ball is catching the ball. That’s your main job and that’s something that you have to take pride in, getting open and running routes the right way, releasing off press coverage, and things like that.
"You have to take pride in it, and that’s what I do.”
While Smith weighs in like the kid on the beach who gets sand kicked in the face in the old Charles Atlas ads, he plays like he's much bigger, something Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni has noted.
"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,” said the rookie head coach.
The Eagles' own expectations for Smith are enormous with an organization picturing a true WR1 who will allow the team's other young receivers like 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor to excel in supporting roles.
“He’s very explosive. He’s very fast. I mean, overall he’s a great receiver,” Smith said of Reagor. “We can complement each other, just help each other out with things in our game. So there may be something I’m doing that he’s not doing or something that he’s doing that I’m not doing. And we can just help each other out in every way.”
The goal for Sirianni seems to be to move Smith around the formation to generate mismatches based on the defense and coverage.
“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.”
The reunion of Smith with second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts, who were once teammates with the Crimson Tide before Hurts' transfer to Oklahoma, is also expected to smooth the transition.
“I believe me and Jalen, we will continue the connection that we have,” Smith assessed. “But I mean, that’s just confidence. If you don’t have that, you’re in the wrong business.”
Smith's business happens to be big plays and ribbon-cutting for the grand opening is Friday in South Philadelphia.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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.