By Stone Loitfellner, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
"If there's one thing that a majority of Philadelphia fans can agree on it's that Howie Roseman and the Eagles need to make the right choice at wide receiver in this year's draft. Not only were the offensive struggles woefully visible throughout the season, but almost the entirety of the receiver corps also underperformed."
This is precisely how I started my rookie receiver wishlist last year. Looking ahead to the 2021 draft, I feel awfully confident in saying the fan base feels the same, with many disappointed in the results of Jalen Reagor's rookie campaign compared to others such as Justin Jefferson, who set an NFL record for rookies with 1,400 receiving yards. Even with Reagor missing time, playing without a traditional offensive coordinator and playing with a struggling Carson Wentz followed by a rookie Jalen Hurts, both of which played behind a damaged offensive line, the fans' frustrations are understandable. Especially since Jefferson was picked immediately after the Eagles selected Reagor (it is worth noting the Vikings had no plan on drafting a receiver until they saw the Eagles passed on Jefferson).
Although Philly finds themselves in a similar situation to last year, they do have one thing going for them: the sixth overall pick, giving them a high chance of landing one of the top two receivers in the draft. With Jacksonville holding the top pick in the draft, it's more than likely Trevor Lawrence goes first overall. The Jets are next up and could possibly draft a receiver or Penei Sewell, the top-ranked offensive linemen, to help out Sam Darnold. However, the main consensus is Justin Fields going to New York, giving them the number two ranked quarterback in the draft. Things do get a little trickier at the number three pick, which belongs to Miami. The Dolphins could be the team to select the first receiver in the draft to give Tua Tagovail0a a true threat outside of DeVante Parker with many speculating DeVonta Smith to be that receiver since the two have a former connection. On the other hand, if Sewell is there, Miami could use the offensive line help. Arriving at the fourth pick, we stop in Atlanta, who despite a high-scoring offense, find themselves once again with a top pick. Of course, with their defensive woes, the Falcons could take Patrick Surtain II, cornerback out of Alabama. Still, there's a chance Atlanta goes with an offensive selection, even with Julio Jones aging, the Falcons still have young talented receivers in Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley. When it comes to Atlanta's quarterback situation though, it would make sense to prepare for the future with Matt Ryan in the back-half of his career. They could easily do this by taking a quarterback in the draft with some believing the answer to be BYU's Zach Wilson. With four picks out of the way, we're now only one pick away with the Bengals being the last stop before the Eagles' pick. This shouldn't be much of a worry because even with an aging AJ Green (who is set to become a free agent), the Bengals have Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, not to mention a healthy cap situation to bring in another receiver through free agency. They could still help out the new face of the franchise, Joe Burrow, big time by drafting the talented pass-catching tight end out of Florida, Kyle Pitts. If not, the Bengals most likely go defense or offensive line: it simply doesn't make much sense for them to go receiver here.
With all of that being said we arrive at pick six, where Philadelphia fans will eagerly be waiting for what name gets called, hoping for it to be a key piece in the puzzle of getting this team back on track. So let's delve into the rookie receiver wishlist.
1. DeVonta Smith 6'1" 175lbs - Alabama
The season was definitely an interesting one, like everything else in 2020, but the wide receiver prospect ranking race would've likely been more exciting had Ja'Marr Chase not opted-out for the season. Nonetheless, DeVonta Smith played this past year and it did nothing but boost his stock. Smith let absolutely no one down and flashed his talents all season long, posting 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns off of 117 receptions (15.9 yards per reception) all of which lead the NCAA. To add to his success in 2020, Smith finished the season with six different honors; AP player of the year, Fred Biletnikoff Award, Maxwell Award, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Player of the Year as well as the Heisman Trophy. Then, if all of that's not enough, let's bring up his National Championship performance where he managed 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half. It's plenty safe to say that Smith is a highly coveted prospect with an immense amount of talent and upside that can benefit any NFL offense, but if the numbers don't do it for you and you would rather see for yourself, just take a look at this. The main takeaway from watching Smith is that, above all else, he is a true route-running speedster. Although he lacks impressive size and body muscle, he makes up for it with his stalky build, high-pointing of the ball and a strong sense of physicality when needed. Make no mistakes on DeVonta Smith, even if he doesn't look like a DK Metcalf type prospect, he's just as dangerous in his own ways.