The Eagles selected Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith with the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Smith has the rare ability to attack the defense from short, mid-range, or deep. He’s an elite route runner and mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses. Smith can separate from defenders and has excellent ball skills. He’s in a great position to become a long-time starter and perennial Pro Bowler in the NFL. Can Smith make a fantasy football impact during his rookie season, and does his outlook and ADP suggest value?
DeVonta Smith’s fantasy outlook for 2021
Philadelphia’s receivers struggled mightily over the last two seasons. The wide receiver position has been a huge area of opportunity for the Eagles in 2019 and 2020, thus using consecutive first-round draft picks on receivers to change this trend. There’s plenty of room to improve this unit in 2021. Smith is in a great situation with new head coach Nick Sirianni, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead.
Many anticipate Smith to open the 2021 season as the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver. Thus, the rookie is expected to lead the team in targets and provide Philadelphia with a versatile weapon. He has the play speed to give defensive coordinators nightmares by threatening them vertically and the short-area quickness to thrive inside from the slot or on screens. The Eagles no longer have veteran wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson on the roster. Furthermore, there continue to be trade rumors surrounding tight end Zach Ertz.
Smith’s success at Alabama
Smith also reunites with former Alabama teammate and Eagles starting quarterback Jalen Hurts. The duo were teammates for two seasons in Tuscaloosa before Hurts transferred to the University of Oklahoma and transformed himself into an upper-echelon quarterback. Smith and Hurts won a national championship together for the Crimson Tide in 2017. As a reminder, Smith caught the game-winning touchdown in that game.
Smith’s former teammate Jaylen Waddle may have been selected No. 6 overall by the Dolphins. But I project Smith to be a viable fantasy option immediately and finish the 2021 season with more PPR points. Some draft analysts have concerns over the former Heisman Trophy winner’s 6’1″, 170-pound frame and if he can withstand the physicality of the NFL. Others are concerned about Smith’s age and that he was a late bloomer in college. Let me take a moment to address those elephants in the room.
Potential areas of concern
There are numerous examples of players succeeding in the NFL who don’t meet the ideal physical template. One great example with a similar style of play to Smith was Hall of Fame receiver Isaac Bruce. The former Memphis receiver measured around 6’0″ and 173 pounds at the 1994 NFL Combine. Bruce was selected 33rd overall and went on to have an epic career. He accumulated 15,208 receiving yards over 16 seasons, mostly with the Rams.
Smith didn’t break out until late in his career. That’s a statistical fact, but context is also important. He was tethered to an Alabama program with an abundance of playmakers, especially at the receiver position. Here are some notable receivers that Smith played alongside and competed for targets with during his time with the Crimson Tide: Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Waddle.
Smith is expected to miss a portion of his rookie training camp due to a knee sprain. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the receiver will miss roughly two weeks with the injury. With Smith sidelined, Philadelphia’s coaching staff will have additional time to evaluate their other young receivers. However, Smith is still projected to be the centerpiece of the Eagles’ passing game.
Smith lands in the City of Brotherly Love
Smith’s supporting cast in Philadelphia will also help him thrive as a rookie by pulling away defensive attention. The Eagles used a first-round pick on Jalen Reagor in 2020 but he didn’t meet expectations during an injury-riddled rookie campaign.
Reagor is better suited as a complementary receiver. So, the addition of Smith should allow him to prosper and even create mismatches when lining up in the slot. Reagor will be motivated to prove his doubters wrong. As a reminder, the Eagles selected him over former LSU receiver Justin Jefferson who went on to have one of the most prolific rookie seasons in NFL history.
Over the years, the Eagles drafted receivers John Hightower and Quez Watkins and added Travis Fulgham to the fold. Fulgham was exceptional from Week 4 to 8 last season. He averaged 19.3 PPR fantasy points per game. Yet, he struggled the rest of the season as defenses made adjustments. Veteran wide receiver Greg Ward is also still on the roster. 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is the one receiver on the outside looking in.
The combined career numbers for Philadelphia’s receivers are 181 receptions for 2,135 yards and 14 touchdowns. This young group of receivers will come together in 2021 in Steichen’s offensive scheme.
The Eagles have tight end Dallas Goedert and running back Miles Sanders, who are also capable pass catchers. According to reports, the offense will emphasize the screen game and set up the passing game via play-action. Smith is particularly lethal in the open field and will have many opportunities to do some damage this season.
Smith had 117 receptions, 1,856 yards, and 23 touchdowns last season for Alabama. He became the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since 1991 and just the third receiver ever to win the prestigious award. He became one of three Heisman Trophy winners in Alabama history, joining Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015). Additionally, Smith holds the SEC and Crimson Tide records for career receiving yards (3,965) and touchdowns (46).
In 2020, Smith excelled in receptions and receiving yards on deep targets — he was also exceptional on screens. He ranked first in screen receptions and screen yards among receivers, and he had the fifth-most receiving yards from the slot. Smith’s skill set should translate well to the Eagles’ offensive scheme.
Given the information we have around Smith and looking at his fantasy outlook in Philadelphia, he projects for around 120 targets, 75 receptions, and a little over 1,000 receiving yards in 2021. He provides you with a mid-range WR3 floor and a low-end WR2 ceiling in PPR.
DeVonta Smith’s ADP in fantasy drafts
Smith is readily available in the eighth round of fantasy drafts when you review redraft ADP data from Fleaflicker, where his ADP currently sits at 89.3. This trend is also similar in pay-to-play fantasy formats, such as the National Fantasy Championship. Smith has an ADP of 80.7. But his ADP is slightly lower on Sleeper (86.5).
Should you draft Smith at this ADP in 2021?
Smith is one of my favorite values in fantasy football drafts right now. He could easily outperform his ADP and lead the Eagles in targets. Still, a few players at his ADP are positioned to provide a significant return on investment that you should prioritize.