Thursday’s lone preseason game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles just got even more enticing. Earlier, we wrote about what we would like to see from Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones in his second preseason game. This contest just inherited another intriguing plot point, as it’s being reported that Eagles rookie receiver DeVonta Smith will be making his NFL debut vs. the Patriots, per NBC’s John Clark. Clark’s report was later confirmed by Mike Garafolo.
We’re super excited to see Smith in action for the first time in an NFL game. With that said, let’s examine three things we’d love to see from Smith tonight.
The first item on our list probably isn’t the most exciting, but it may be the most important. Much was made of Smith’s slender frame throughout the pre-draft process. Analysts (and some teams) wondered if the 166-pound Smith could handle the physicality of the pro game. These discussions only became more prominent when Smith suffered a sprained knee at training camp—Smith missed the next 17 days of practice. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner just returned to the field earlier this week. The Eagles must feel great about where Smith is from a health perspective or else they wouldn’t be willing to risk their top-10 pick in Thursday’s game. It’s imperative for all involved that it stays that way.
CHEMISTRY WITH JALEN HURTS
Anytime your offense is heavily relying on a rookie receiver and a sophomore signal-caller, getting the pair of them live reps together is of the utmost importance. Hurts and Smith crossed paths at Alabama, but Tua Tagovailoa took over the starting quarterback job just when Smith began to be featured on a more consistent basis. Reports out of training camp as of late indicate that Hurts is starting to command the offense while performing at a higher level than he did in early August. Most of Hurts’ best performances this month came with Smith nursing an injury on the sidelines. Now that the former Alabama man is back in action—with the Eagles’ first regular-season game just a few weeks away—it’s paramount that these two get on the same page sooner rather than later.
ABILITY TO GET OFF PRESS COVERAGE
Let me make this clear: Smith never struggled to separate from press coverage at the college ranks. He consistently got open thanks to his crisp route-running ability, confident approach to man coverage, and diverse release package (among other things). This goes back to the first point regarding the concerns of Smith’s maxed-out frame. He’ll see more press coverage in the pros than he did in college (as all receivers do), as NFL cornerbacks are bigger, stronger, and more physical than their collegiate counterparts. It will probably be a small sample size, but if Smith doesn’t allow the Patriots’ cornerbacks to bully him tonight, it could go a long way toward quieting his pre-draft naysayers.
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