DeVonta Smith was a presumptive favorite of the New York Giants heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Apparently, this was known around the National Football League.
The Cowboys were selecting at pick 10 with the Eagles at 12, and the Giants sandwiched in between. When Dallas lost out on a chance to draft one of the two top cornerbacks, who went to Carolina (Jaycee Horn) and Denver (Patrick Surtain II), Philadelphia’s general manager Howie Roseman saw an opportunity to leapfrog the Giants for a player they coveted.
The Eagles traded a third-round pick to select Smith, which prompted the Giants to trade back nine spots, pick up a 2022 first-round selection, along with two other draft picks, one in 2021 and the other in 2022.
The process is correct in my estimation; Smith could be a much more impactful player than Kadarius Toney, the Giants' selection at 20. However, adding future assets to your team’s arsenal in a draft that is much more certain is a sound way to ensure there’s known talent for the future.
Smith may have to be an outlier to have success. Standing 6-foot-1, he reportedly weighed only 166, which is small, especially when considering that he isn’t a pure speed type of burner.
I believe Smith will be a success in the NFL because of his talent as a route runner, his ability to win at the line of scrimmage, his sure hands, and his work ethic. (As Malcolm Gladwell states in the book Outliers: The Story of Success, “Achievement is talent, plus preparation,” and Smith has both characteristics of success.)
Fifth-overall selection Ja’Marr Chase broke all of the SEC records in his famed 2019 season that helped propel the LSU Tigers to their first national championship title since Nick Saban coached the University back in 2003.
One year later, with Saban as his coach, Smith broke Chase’s records with 117 catches on 145 targets for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns while missing the last half of Alabama’s championship win against Ohio State (after recording 215 yards and three touchdowns).
This historic season led to Smith being the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard earned the award at the University of Michigan in 1991.
Smith is a technical wizard up his route stems, showing incredibly deceptive movements to keep defensive backs honest. He does a great job winning at the line of scrimmage with a variety of releases, and, despite his lean frame, he does a good job winning off-press.
He also has exceptional hands. He’ll be an inter-division player that we always look back at and say, “what if.” That shouldn’t be received as a slight or referendum to Toney, the Giants, or the process that I applauded earlier, but rather just something to monitor over Smith’s career.
One of the pleasant surprises from the 2020 free-agent class was the combination of Bradberry and Blake Martinez, which helped give defensive coordinator Patrick Graham the personnel he needed to help implement some of his vision. Bradberry proved to outplay his contract and was, arguably, a top-five cornerback in the league.
Bradberry allowed 44 receptions on 78 targets for 454 yards and three touchdowns while intercepting three passes and knocking 14 away. He routinely lined up against the offense’s number one receiver and did a fantastic job shutting them down for most of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 10th in the league in overall coverage, with 415 of his coverage snaps designated as “zone” and only 150, or 23%, being “man” coverage.
Bradberry is one of the more disciplined and patient cornerbacks in the league. He isn’t the fastest vertical corner, but his short-area quickness, change of direction, and lateral movement skills are excellent, while his hip fluidity is very good as well. He does a great job reading underneath routes and understanding route combinations--this shows a lot of football intelligence.
This processing trait should translate well against the young rookie coming into the league. Smith’s game is predicated on many traits that Bradberry should, theoretically, be good at defending.
Bradberry is the number one outside cornerback on the Giants, and Smith should be the number one receiver on the Eagles. (He played 63% of his snaps outside at Alabama, which is subject to change now that he has a different coaching staff.)
Philadelphia just invested a 2020 first-round pick into Jalen Reagor, a TCU wide receiver who underwhelmed in an injury-plagued year. He aligned predominantly outside as well in 2019. In 2019, the Eagles drafted J.J. Arcega-Whitside in the second round, and he has not yielded the type of return worthy of a day two selection.
The Eagles also have Greg Ward Jr, Travis Fulgham, Quez Watkins, and John Hightower at the receiver spot. If Bradberry is going to follow anyone, expect it to be DeVonta Smith.
The Giants acquired Jackson not long after the Titans released the cornerback. The former first-round pick spent the last year dinged up, and the Giants gave him market value to play three seasons in New York.
Jackson can play outside and in the slot and will be probably be matched against Smith for snaps when the two teams square off twice in the upcoming season.
Jackson has more vulnerabilities in his game than Bradberry. Yes, Jackson is the better athlete, but he’s less patient and more susceptible to double moves, shoulder fakes, and other nuances to running routes. Luckily for Jackson, his ability to flip his hips and not lose momentum is a valuable asset to his game that can allow mistakes to happen in coverage.
In his last fully healthy season (2019), Jackson allowed 39 catches on 63 targets for 479 yards and two touchdowns while getting his hands on ten footballs. He showed a lot of man coverage ability, and he isn’t scared to tackle. He also did a good job closing in aggressively on the catch point, and these are all things he’ll have to maintain against Smith.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jackson kick inside against Smith if the Eagles’ Nick Sirianni or Shane Steichen align Smith in the slot. Jackson’s athletic ability and movement skills allow him to go inside and not be a vulnerability.
If Smith gets hot, this could be an option; especially with the addition of Aaron Robinson, who can play outside if asked. Robinson or Darnay Holmes can hold their own against Smith, but Patrick Graham might want to stop Smith with one of his top two corners. Lucky enough for the Giants, Jackson is versatile enough to play the majority of snaps inside.