If the Eagles ride with Jalen Hurts, the question should immediately be “What help are they getting him at No. 6 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft?” This draft has some very talented pass catchers and four of them will be within reach. Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Kyle Pitts, and Jaylen Waddle are widely considered the best receiving threats in the class. Let’s get into the weeds, trait by trait, and see who should be the top pick for Philadelphia.
Playing Speed: Jaylen Waddle
Jaylen Waddle’s speed is game-changing. He really can change the shape of a defense with his mere presence on the field. Waddle can turn short passes into long gains with angle destroying acceleration while also consistently being a downfield threat.
Route Running: DeVonta Smith
DeVonta Smith is as refined a route runner as there was in college football. He is not only extremely agile in and out of breaks, but he is advanced in terms of using subtle head fakes and false steps to fool defenders covering him. Smith created separation in college not because of overwhelming speed, but because he forced cornerbacks to slow down their own process in defending him. That sort of savvy will translate immediately to the NFL.
Playing Above the Rim: Kyle Pitts
To be fair, Ja’Marr Chase would be here if it was just wide receivers being listed. Kyle Pitts’ dominant catch point prowess is no joke and one of the reasons he is such a unique and dangerous offensive prospect. Pitts is a healthy 6’5” with the build of a small forward. He is too athletic and too strong for defenders to beat him in contested situations. If you had to choose a player in this class to win a jump ball, Kyle Pitts is the easy answer.
Yards After Catch: Ja’Marr Chase
This is an area where these four players all excel in their own way. However, while DeVonta Smith has great vision, Jaylen Waddle has great speed and Kyle Pitts is a turbocharged tank in the open field, Ja’Marr Chase has a blend of all of those. Ja’Marr Chase’s speed with the ball is second only to Jaylen Waddle and he has running back instincts in the open field. At six foot and over 210 pounds, Chase has a strong build that allows him to break tackles and extend runs.
Dependability: DeVonta Smith
This is a sure-handed group of players, but there is a reason DeVonta Smith caught 117 passes last year. Not only does he have sticky hands, but he has no problem making tough catches in traffic. Not just the jump balls that a player like Kyle Pitts plays so well, but also contested catches over the middle where big hits are always threatening. Smith makes clutch catches on the regular, which was why he was a favorite target in 2020.
Durability: DeVonta Smith
Devonta Smith has played 39 games in the last three seasons despite being a high volume target for two of them. Smith has a long track record of being ready to go on Saturdays. It’s also worth noting that while Smith’s build has a lot of people asking questions about injuries in the NFL, he has played in the most physical college football conference and never missed a game.
Versatility: Kyle Pitts
Being a tight end makes this a bit unfair, but Kyle Pitts’ whole appeal is how dominant he is in various alignments. Not only can he destroy defenses as a conventional tight end, but he can play on the outside against cornerbacks too. When you have an offensive player who can play inline, in the slot, and on the outside… that is going to be a pain in the ass for defenses to game plan for.
Upside: Ja’Marr Chase
At age 19, Ja’Marr Chase wrecked SEC defenses and scored 20 touchdowns. While he hasn’t played in the last year, it’s hard to ignore what his blend of physical tools could turn into once he gets to the NFL.
Pro Readiness: DeVonta Smith
DeVonta Smith is a day one NFL difference-maker. His blend of savvy, physicality, and dependability will make the transition much easier. He can play on the outside and in the slot where he can eat up targets and make life hell for defenders. While he and Justin Jefferson are different prospects, I expect Smith to have a similar immediate impact in terms of taking over as a team’s top receiver as a rookie.
Verdict for the Eagles: Draft DeVonta Smith
When it comes down to it, we are splitting hairs between such good prospects. The Eagles will be well off to have any of these players on their team. However, DeVonta Smith is the type of player, not even a bad coaching staff could mess up. His readiness for the NFL is a huge plus given how desperately the Eagles need a difference-maker. Having a player like Smith come in and immediately become the top target takes the pressure off the Eagles’ other young receivers.
Every other top receiver will have some sort of learning curve: Pitts will need to adjust his physical game to defenders more willing to play bully ball with him. Jaylen Waddle is still recovering from a lower-body injury and has never been the top target in an offense. Ja’Marr Chase hasn’t played football in a year.
DeVonta Smith is coming off one of the best seasons ever for a college football wide receiver and while the hype train has faded on him, the Eagles cannot overthink this draft and miss out on a day one difference-maker.
Who should the Eagles draft at No. 6?
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