Can DeVonta Smith keep his historic end-of-season surge going against the Giants?
Devonta Smith has become a force to be reckoned with on the field in recent weeks.
Since the start of December, Smith has put up some of the best numbers among NFL wide receivers. The second-year Alabama product’s performances have not gone unnoticed by Eagles’ fans, and he has quickly established himself as one of the top young players at his position.
DeVonta Smith WR Ranks from Weeks 13-18
- 56 targets: T-5th
- 39 catches: 7th
- 587 yards: 2nd
- AJ Brown (1st, 665)
- 4 touchdowns: T-1st
- 260 yards after catch: 1st
- 7 contested catches (T-3rd) on 11 targets (T-8th)
Those are top-level talent numbers coming from the 10th overall pick in the 2021 draft class. During that stretch of games, there are only three receivers with more than 35 catches and less than two drops: Amon Ra St-Brown, CeeDee Lamb, Keenan Allen (0 drops), and DeVonta Smith.
The 2021 wide receiver class will go down in the NFL history books as one of the best of all time. Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle deserve the national recognition their receiving with back-to-back 1,000 yards seasons each to start their careers. Devonta finished the 2022 season as the Eagles franchise record holder for most single-season receptions by a wide receiver with 95, second all-time to Zach Ertz’s 118 in 2018.
New York’s defensive coordinator, Don “Wink” Martindale, runs a fairly predictable coverage scheme, and teams know he will throw multiple blitzes with the Giants running Cover 0 at a higher rate than most in the NFL. Given Jalen Hurts’ shoulder strain, Wink will bring the house with blitz packages to test the pain tolerance of the MVP-caliber quarterback. Jalen told reports earlier this week that he’s feeling good while adding his thoughts about the New York defender’s talk of targeting that shoulder on hits.
“Obviously, the quarterback gets a lot of attention,” Hurts clarified. “I think every quarterback in the league has a bounty on them in a sense — to stop them.”
Hurts should look DeVonta’s direction early and often against press coverage with an extra defender coming his way. Smith burns defensive backs who challenge him in man coverage with precise routes and leaves defenders in the dust after the catch. The former Heisman winner’s capacity to win 50-50 throws over defenders is like his own spider-sense, always aware of the ball’s whereabouts and snaring it with his web-like hands.
Despite AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith to deal with, Martindale will stick to his guns and run his patented press-man Cover One scheme when he’s not all out blitzing Hurts. The Giants’ cornerbacks are not the most physical, jam-master cornerbacks, but they excel at mirroring receivers’ routes in a press look. Unfortunately for them, DeVonta Smith might be the best receiver against man coverage in the last six weeks of the season.
DeVonta Smith WR Ranks vs. Man Coverage from Weeks 13-18 (*min. 10 targets)
PFF’s 2nd highest-graded slot receiver (89.5)
- 22 targets: 3rd
- 16 catches: 1st
- 277 yards: 1st
- 3 touchdowns: 1st
- 120 yards after catch: 1st
- AJ Brown (2nd, 72 YAC)
- 5 contested catches (T-1st) on 6 contested targets (T-3rd)
One crucial aspect of The Slim Reaper’s success is Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen utilizing his speed in the slot. DeVonta Smith played 232 snaps in the slot in 2022 compared to only 105 as a rookie. Not only can he take the top off a defense and get other receivers open down the seams or sidelines, but his route-running must be pure torment to cover in one-on-one situations.
Fabian Moreau and Darnay Holmes were the two Giants who experienced that torture in the Week 14 contest. The Eagles played DeVonta a season-high 25 times as an inside receiver versus 37 on the outside. He only totaled five receptions on eight targets for 64 yards but could have amassed much more with a couple of Hurts’ misses and a fantastic catch ruled out of bounds.
Devonta Smith vs. Fabian Moreau (#37 to watch on Saturday)
2/2, 22 yards, 2 first downs | 112.50 Passer Rating
DeVonta Smith vs. Darnay Holmes (#30 to watch on Saturday)
2/5, 41 yards, TD, 1st down, PBU, Drop | 109.17 Passer Rating
With Ja’Marr Chase having one of the best rookie seasons for a wide receiver since Randy Moss and Jaylen Waddle breaking out in Miami this year, DeVonta Smith felt like the “left-out” wide receiver from that star-studded group.
His first 1,000-yard season comes from playing across from AJ Brown, and the statistical stretch he put in over the last six weeks with multiple quarterbacks certifies him as a WR1 on any other team. With that string of impressive games under his belt, Devonta Smith will now look to keep the momentum going when he faces the Giants in their third divisional showdown.
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