They loved him. They wanted it. They weren’t sure they were in a privileged position to have it.
It was the Giants and their affection for DeVonta Smith. It was also the Eagles and their affection for the same player.
As these two NFC rivals, heading in opposite directions (Eagles up, Giants down) prepare to face each other for the first time this season, Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Eagles, who won the prize, will be able to put Smith on the field dressed in green. And the Giants will be tasked with finding a way to stop a player they coveted and failed to do to get it.
“I’m happy we traded because he’s really special for this team and I’m really happy we have him on this football team,” said Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni.
The Giants wanted Smith on their team. After their lousy 6-10 record in 2020 landed them the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, there were several players the Giants were interested in selecting – players who they believed had a realistic chance of making it. always be part of the table after the first 10 choices. They were bred on cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II. They were bred on Smith and Jaylen Waddle as wide receivers. They (correctly) thought offensive tackle Penei Sewell would be gone.
As the first round progressed, the Giants’ priority players were ripped off. They expected the Cowboys, at No.10, to not take a receiver (they already had a lot of talent in that position) and instead focus on improving their lousy defense. The Giants thought well, but weren’t expecting what happened with Dallas on the clock. The Eagles, sitting at No.12, called up the Cowboys and a rare trade between the division rivals was discussed and finalized. The Eagles took Smith at No.10, and just like that, the Giants realized that instead of slipping the Heisman Trophy winner into their offense, they were going to have to find a way to stop him twice a year in a foreseeable future.
“We were doing everything we had to do to get to the player we really wanted in this draft, who was DeVonta Smith,” said Sirianni. “I’m really glad we have it. “
It was a big blow for the Giants. Smith was the latest in a group of players the Giants deemed worthy of being in the top 11. GM Dave Gettleman made the first trade of his NFL career when the Bears wanted to move up to 11th to take quarterback Justin Fields. The Giants came down to No.20 and picked Kadarius Toney, a Florida slot catcher they had rated well but a notch below Waddle and Smith.
Toney has had a rambling rookie year, battling injury and often stuck as to his place in a stumbling offense, leading head coach Joe Judge to fire offensive coordinator Jason Garrett on Tuesday. Toney is still running out of practice time this week – this time it’s from a quadruple contusion. In nine games, he has 35 receptions for 392 yards and has yet to score his first NFL touchdown.
There were questions about Smith’s durability – he’s thin as a rail – but he hasn’t missed a game for the Eagles, who at 5-6 are soaring. Smith leads his team with 46 receptions for 664 yards and four touchdowns. He looks completely ready for the NFL. Toney, with rougher edges, doesn’t.
“I can’t get on this bus without him,” Sirianni said. “We need DeVonta Smith because he’s one of our toughest guys. He’s tough, he’s smart, obviously his talent speaks for himself and what he did in college and what he continues to do in the NFL.
“He’s very instinctive and I think he’s a great divider for a lot of people in this league. All the guys in the league are talented. Guys who are instinctive just have a knack for playing games. So DeVonta, I just feel like he’s light years ahead of the other rookie receivers I’ve coached in the sense that he really understands how to attack a defensive back.
The Giants, for the first time, will see what they missed.
“I think he’s cunning, he’s athletic,” said James Bradberry, the Giants’ top cornerback. “I watched his outings in his run. I have the impression that he runs some very good roads. He’s just a wise guy for a youngster in this league. He has a certain gentleness to him. ”
The Eagles take advantage of this softness. The Giants can see what they missed.