It goes without saying that the Eagles wide receiver position has been far from satisfactory in recent years.
During the Doug Pederson era, not a single wideout ever went over 850 receiving yards on the year, and the only wide receiver to ever record over 70 receptions in a season was Jordan Matthews in 2016 with 73.
The Eagles enter the 2021 offseason once again looking to add to their wide receiver group. After spending a second round pick on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in 2019, and a first round pick pick on Jalen Reagor in 2020, most fans will tell you wide receiver is still the biggest need on offense. Most mock drafts have the Eagles taking either Ja’Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith at six overall, the two top receiver prospects entering the draft.
While the questions surrounding the Eagles wide receiver group are warranted, you’d be hard pressed to find another position group on the team with as much young, promising potential.
The “veteran” of the group is Greg Ward, who will only be 26 years old heading into next season. Gone are the days of trotting out worn down versions of Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. That alone should excite fans.
The Eagles drafted three wideouts in last year’s draft: Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins. None of them had enough playing time for anyone to make a proper assessment on them. What we do know is that all three have speed and solid opening field running ability.
We saw glimpses of it last season. Whether it was Reagor’s punt return for a touchdown against the Packers, or Quez Watkins’ 33-yard catch and run for a touchdown against the Cardinals, there’s a lot of big play potential in this group.
Aside from Jackson’s 81-yard touchdown against Dallas, Hightower, Reagor, and Watkins were the top-3 in longest receptions last season for the Eagles. Going 59, 55, and 43 yards respectively.
The combination of those burners with guys like Dallas Goedert and Travis Fulgham, the Eagles are poised to have a balanced arsenal of weapons moving forward.
Speaking of Fulgham, he showcased the highest potential of any wideout on the roster last season. I wrote about Fulgham as a potential breakout candidate a few weeks ago, and I still stand by that today.
In a span of five weeks from Week 4 to 8, Fulgham led the league in receiving yards (435), while averaging 16.8 yards per reception and finding the end zone four times. With an entire offseason to develop and learn the offense, there’s no reason Fulgham can’t become a legit pass catching target in the NFL.
Then we have the “veteran” of the group I mentioned earlier, Greg Ward. While his numbers weren’t outstanding last season, he still led the team in receptions (53) and receiving touchdowns (6). He’s your prototypical slot receiver who’s quick enough to get open against nickel corners or safeties.
The Nick Sirianni Effect
Nick Sirianni’s calling card during his coaching career has been developing wide receivers. And his stellar track record speaks to that.
In an interview with nj.com, Colts wideout Zach Pascal shared why Sirianni has such a knack for getting the most out of his receivers. “He’s going to put you in a position to succeed,” Pascal said. “Let’s say this guy is fast, (he’ll) put him on the fast route. This guy has a good break at the top (of the route), (he’ll) give him a curl route. He uses guys’ great strengths.”
Something fans harped on during the Pederson era was the former coach’s inability to put his players in favorable positions on the field. Whether it was with Carson Wentz, Miles Sanders, or the several receivers he worked with, Pederson never seemed to figure out exactly how to utilize his players’ strengths.
It seems like a fairly simple concept — when players are used correctly, they’ll obviously be more productive. Sometimes it really is the simple things that matter the most.
Pascal — who was an undrafted free agent — is just one example of Sirianni’s development work with wide receivers. Guys like Dwayne Bowe (remember him?), Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, and even Keenan Allen have all had career years with Sirianni as their wide receivers coach.
There’s no reason to think Sirianni can’t pull off similar magic with the Eagles current crop of wideouts. The physical talent is clearly there in this group, they just need some fine tuning. Sirianni feels like the coach to get that done.
Given the Eagles track record at the position, I know it’s hard to be optimistic about the wide receiver group moving forward. But, all the pieces are there for this group to succeed next season.
With the right combination of talent and good coaching, anything is possible in the NFL. Even the Eagles wide receiver position being an area of strength.