Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver

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Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver

Brad Smith has played many positions throughout his eight years in the NFL.

Wide receiver. Backup quarterback. Kick returner.

He also spent time in the backfield as a Wildcat specialist earlier in his career with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

Now, entering his ninth season and second with the Eagles, Smith is trying to focus on becoming a better receiver.

“I’ve played receiver during my career off and on,” Smith said Tuesday after practice. “Now, being able to work on the nuances a little bit more, especially with this offense -- kind of knowing what they’re looking for has been a blessing.”

When the Eagles released their first official depth chart on Monday, Smith was listed as the first-team slot receiver, something of a surprise considering he caught just two passes for 27 yards last season.

“I’ve never really played much slot,” Smith said. “Coaches have always moved me around for different packages and personnel, so I’ve played a little bit of everything.”

In eight years, only twice has Smith finished a season with more than 20 catches and 200 yards, the last time being in 2011 with the Bills, when he caught 23 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown.

The last time Smith finished a season as one his own team’s top three wide receivers in terms of yards? That would be 2007 with the Jets, when he caught 32 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns playing behind Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles.

In fact, Smith has only four more career receiving yards (976), than he does career rushing yards (972). His most impressive year as a pro was in 2010, when he finished with 1,432 kick return yards, 299 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, yet caught just four passes for 44 yards.

Still, the Eagles have been impressed with his performance as a receiver in camp thus far.

“He’s one of the guys that’s really benefited from all the reps he’s getting,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday. “He’s done a great job. I think he’s improved by leaps and bounds from a year ago within our offense.

“He’s a veteran player. He’s a very steady competitor and player on special teams and he’s developing himself more as a wide receiver within our offense and he’s done a good job.”

No matter how much Smith has improved as a wide receiver, it is still difficult to imagine him finishing the season as the team’s first option in the slot.

Rookie second-round pick Jordan Matthews is currently listed behind Smith on the depth chart, and it is likely the Eagles are keeping him on the second team as a way of bringing him along slowly. It would be very surprising if Smith finished the season with more catches or yards than Matthews.

“We don’t view it [as a competition],” Smith said. “We’re trying to get better individually because ultimately when it comes down to it, it’s can we win games as a team.”

Even with his current place on the depth chart, it’s not a guarantee that Smith will end up on the Eagles' final roster.

The first four spots are locked up by starters Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper and rookies Matthews and Josh Huff, leaving just two more receiver spots. While it is likely that Smith will snag one of those spots, he still has plenty of competition in Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

While Smith’s versatility would seem to give him an edge over those players, it's still debatable as to how much of his versatility the Eagles really need. Last season he received only two carries and returned just four kicks.

When asked what he would like his role to be, Smith predictably responded, “Whatever Coach wants.”

As he is currently not listed as one of the team’s kick returners, it seems as though Chip Kelly wants him to focus on improving the team’s depth at wide receiver, something the Eagles certainly could use.

“Coach moves us all around a lot,” Smith said. “There are certain formations we could be anywhere. As far as game planning, Coach could come up with anything.”

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

After handling two inferior opponents in the Browns and Bears, the Eagles' Week 3 matchup with the Super Bowl-hopeful Steelers was viewed as a barometer to gauge just how good Carson Wentz and Co. really were.

Despite their 34-3 shellacking of the Steelers, no one came rushing to label the Eagles as the team to beat in the NFC nor as legitimate Super Bowl contenders less than a quarter of the way through the season, and understandably so. 

But as the Eagles go on their Week 4 bye, the national media has begun to buy stock in the Birds as a playoff team following their 3-0 start, a far cry from the bottom-five team many projected them to be in 2016.

Here's what they're saying about the Eagles during their bye week:

Power Rankings
Many in the national media expected the Eagles to flop in 2016, but since the start of the season the Birds have experienced a rapid rise in power rankings. 

ESPN: No. 7 

CBS Sports: No. 5 

FOX Sports: No. 5 

NFL.com: No. 6

USA Today:  No. 4

Carson Wentz for ... MVP?
Through the first three games of his NFL career Carson Wentz has been nothing short of stellar. The rookie quarterback has posted a 64.7 completion percentage, five touchdowns and a 103.8 passer rating, all while throwing zero interceptions. 

Is it safe to say Wentz is the early leader in the clubhouse for Offensive Rookie of the Year? Sure. How about for league MVP? It may sound crazy, but Jeff Dooley of The Washington Post would tab Wentz as the Most Valuable Player through three weeks for being the league’s best quarterback thus far.

"Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is off to the best three-game start that Pro Football Focus has ever recorded from a rookie QB in 11 seasons of grading players,” Dooley wrote. “His 90.5 grade (on a 0-100 scale) is not only better than the three-game starts of each of the star rookies from 2012’s renowned QB class (Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, all of whom led their teams to the playoffs in Year 1, and by season’s end ranked among PFF’s top 15 quarterback grades), but it is the top mark among all QBs so far for the 2016 NFL season.”

Show the defense some love too
Enough Carson Wentz talk, how about this Eagles defense?

Jim Schwartz’s unit paces the NFL in total points allowed (27), is third in total sacks (10), fourth in yards per game (274.3) and seventh in total turnovers (eight).

Under the tutelage of Schwartz this defense has come a very long way since last season, when opposing offenses torched the Eagles for an average of 26.9 points on 400-plus yards per game. 

According to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, that improved defense is so important because it’s going to keep the Eagles alive in games when Wentz is having a rough outing.

"With Fletcher Cox making an early case for consideration behind Von Miller in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion, Brandon Graham in a defense better suited to his talents and a playmaking safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, the Eagles defense is soaring,” Patra wrote. “Through three games it's the prefect mesh of talent and scheme. If Wentz ever stumbles this season, the Eagles' D will be there to help prop up the rookie and get through a rough outing or three."

Playoffs?
The Eagles had the longest odds (plus-600) by a wide margin to come out of the NFC East before the season began. Now, they’re the favorites (2/1) to capture the division crown as they sit alone atop the NFC East.

There's still a lot of football left to be played, including all six division games, but the Birds simply reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2013 with a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach would be an impressive feat. 

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated the Eagles' ceiling is even higher than just a division title and a playoff berth.

"It shouldn’t be happening this fast for the Eagles, coming up from 7-9 with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback from North Dakota State and a defense that needed a new leader," King wrote. "But it is, and there’s nothing fluky about it. The Eagles are legitimate deep-into-January contenders right now."

2017 NFL draft prospect watch: Corey Davis, James Washington, Courtland Sutton

2017 NFL draft prospect watch: Corey Davis, James Washington, Courtland Sutton

We lead this prospect watch with what else but wide receivers to help Eagles rookie phenom Carson Wentz.

We also look at an offensive lineman to help protect Wentz, a corner that could help Jim Schwartz's defense, and a local running back getting lost in a deep class.

Here are six players to watch on Saturday:

Corey Davis, senior WR, Western Michigan (6-3/213)
Davis' stock is skyrocketing and deservedly so. This kid can play. He's put up 24 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns in four games. He'll take on Central Michigan, who took down Oklahoma State earlier this season. Watching Davis for the first hour of that game will be a nice appetizer before some of the bigger matchups.

Western Michigan at Central Michigan, 7 p.m.

James Washington, junior WR, Oklahoma State (6-1/205)
I profiled Washington earlier this week and now he'll get some decent competition against No. 22 Texas. He had a monster game against Pitt a couple weeks ago (9 catches, 296 yards, two TDs), but has lacked consistency overall this season.

Oklahoma State vs. No. 22 Texas, 12 p.m.

Courtland Sutton, redshirt sophomore WR, SMU, (6-4/215)
A tight end in high school, Sutton's speed was too great to keep playing that position. A redshirt sophomore, Sutton is averaging 24.9 yards a catch with four touchdowns this season. He'll be in our own backyard this Saturday afternoon when he takes on Temple at the Linc.

SMU at Temple, 12 p.m.

Chad Wheeler, senior OT, USC (6-6/310)
Wheeler's issues have nothing to do with his ability. He's a stud with great size and above average athleticism. But the massive left tackle has had issues off the field and with injuries. He should dominate against Arizona State on Saturday night.

USC vs. Arizona State, 8:30 p.m.

Cordrea Tankersley, senior CB, Clemson (6-1/200)
Tankersley could've joined the seven Clemson defenders that jumped to the NFL, but he decided to come back after having a strong junior campaign (19 passed defended, five picks). Tankerlsey has ideal NFL size and above average ball skills. His speed, which isn't quite elite level, will be tested against Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson and his speedy receivers.

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 3 Louisville, 8 p.m.

Corey Clement, senior RB, Wisconsin (5-11/227)
The Glassboro, New Jersey native has been hampered by injuries but did manage to score two touchdowns in Wisconsin's upset of No. 17 Michigan State last week. With this running back class being so deep, Clement could be a sleeper that gets lost in the shuffle. He'll have a tall task competing against No. 4 Michigan on the road.

No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan, 3:30 p.m.