Eаgleѕ Mаy Hаve Fіnаlly Found A Mаnufаctured-Toucһ Optіon

The Eagles have had difficulty finding manufactured-touch players over recent seasons. That worm may have turned on Day 3 of the 2024 NFL Draft when Philadelphia selected Texas A&M slot receiver Ainias Smith.

A 5-foot-9, 190-pound playmaking machine Smith is electric with the football in his hands and can win with suddenness from the slot.

His draft process was hampered by a stress fracture discovered in his left shin by doctors during the scouting combine’s medical evaluations in early March, and a 4.55 40-yard dash at the Aggies’ pro day doesn’t accurately highlight the field-fast nature of Smith’s game on film.

Smith played some running back at Texas A&M back in 2020 and that experience has carried over to his abilities with the football in his hand whether it’s in the return game or when it comes to YAC as a receiver, not to mention the occasional touch lining up in the backfield or in the jet sweep-game.

“You could say the running back room was a little different, learning different protections, learning different plays, who’s going to be blocking who and whatnot, but honestly me having the ball in my hands, I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid,” Smith said while talking with local reporters for the first time. “Once I learned basically to read my blocks, learning how to understand basically things were gonna happen, and when things don’t happen the way you want them to, I have a counter against it.”

That RB experience was tapped into by Smith when he went back to receiver.

“When I went back to the receiver room, it became natural like little bubble routes, open field space, things like that, just having the ball in my hand was just natural,” he said

The Eagles are playing it cautious with Smith, who did not participate in the team’s two-day rookie camp on Friday and Saturday of last week but the rookie was on the field observing and is moving well.

“They’ve been trying to slow me, not trying to rush me back or anything,” Smith said. “Honestly, right now I feel pretty smooth. Recovery’s been going very well. I’m excited and ready to get back out there.”

Patience could be a virtue with Smith, who offers a trait that the Eagles’ offense doesn’t project to have if he’s not on the field. A.J. Brown is an All-Pro and DeVonta Smith is in the conversation as the best WR2 in the NFL but the slot spot has been an issue.

“I have a great room,” Smith said. “A great group of guys that I’m going to be surrounded by, so I’m definitely excited to go to work with them, learn a lot from the game, and those guys, and really just being able to watch them play, practice, all of those things, and just learning how to play at the level they play at, for sure.”

The speedy Quez Watkins was in the slot role last season but underachieved even in his Nick Sirianni-described role as a field stretcher due to his 4.35 speed. Other options like the descending Julio Jones and the workmanlike Olamide Zaccheaus offered little production.

All three of those players are gone with Watkins signing in Pittsburgh, Zaccheaus heading down I-95 to Washington, and Jones perhaps at the end of the road in what should be a Hall of Fame career.

The veteran replacements brought in are Parris Campbell and DeVante Parker, the former trying to reboot a career that has been a disappointment in stops with Indianapolis and the New York Giants and the latter an aging contested-catch expert who is better-suited outside the numbers as a backup to Brown and Smith.

Smith, a fifth-round pick at No. 152 overall is the ceiling player in the mic, one who fits from a traits and skill standpoint. The Eagles may have finally found their manufactured touch player.

“His ability to run after the catch, his ability to get in and out of breaks, (and) I think he is extremely tough; I love that about him,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said. “That’s really what sticks out. Catches the ball really well.

“Those are the things that really stick out. It’s going to be fun to see how we can get him the football and different ways that he can contribute both on special teams and on offense.”

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