Eagles Retrospective: Jason Avant and The Art of The Catch

When you think of great wide receivers who wore midnight green, names like Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson, Mike Quick, and Harold Carmichael come to mind. For as great as those players were during their times in Philly, there’s something special about the receivers who often get overlooked, even though their contributions to the team were profoundly valuable.

Jason Avant is the first guy that pops into my mind whenever I think about underappreciated Eagles wide receivers.

Was he ever voted to the Pro Bowl? No.

Did he ever eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in a season? No.

Did he at least score a lot of touchdowns? During his eight-year career, Avant only found the end zone 13 times. His career-high for a season is just three.

Avant was far from a flashy player. He only had two receptions in his career that went over 40 yards and he averaged 11.9 yards per reception during his eight years in the NFL. He didn’t have the speed to take the top off a defense. He ran a below average 4.62 40-yard dash at the combine. He didn’t have elite quickness either, which made it all the more difficult to beat man coverage.

What Avant did have, was an elite set of hands. At the end of the day, catching the ball is the most important aspect of playing the wide receiver position.

Avant’s ability to haul in passes didn’t go unnoticed by his peers around the league. Just this past week, former All-Pro wideout Brandon Marshall spoke about Avant on the “I Am Athlete” podcast.

Marshall wasn’t lying.

For his career, Avant saw 527 targets and only dropped 18 of them. That’s a drop percentage of just 4.9 over an eight year period. For comparison sake, Marshall posted a drop percentage of 11.1 for his career. The best wideout I’ve ever seen in an Eagles uniform, T.O., dropped 13.2% of the passes thrown his way during his career.

Avant just didn’t drop passes.

He had one of the best catches in Eagles history as well. Everyone says OBJ popularized the one-handed catch. Avant was doing it before OBJ even got to the NFL.

Avant’s best year as an Eagle came in 2012, the final year of the Andy Reid era. Avant hauled in 53 receptions for 648 yards. He failed to find the end zone that season, but he didn’t record a single drop on 71 targets. Pro Football Focus handed Avant a 90.5 drop-grade for the season. He finished the year with the highest PFF grade of his career, earning an overall mark of 78.6.

He was a quintessential slot receiver in 2012. Avant was borderline unstoppable on short to intermediate routes. On passes between 10 to 20 yards, Avant posted a PFF grade of 98.6. He hauled in 17 of 24 targets in that range, with 15 of those receptions going for first downs. When targeting Avant in that 10-20 yard window, quarterbacks posted a passer rating of 92 with a completion percentage of 70.8.

During the majority of his tenure in Philly, Avant played alongside DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Two wide receivers who had electric speed and playmaking ability. Avant was the perfect sidekick. While Maclin and Jackson racked up the splash plays and scored touchdowns, Avant did the dirty work. Moving the chains on third down, getting open for underneath routes, and catching everything thrown his way was a foregone conclusion each and every Sunday.

He was the glue that held the Eagles receiving corps in tact towards the end of the Reid era. From 2009-’12, Avant only missed two games. Maclin and Jackson missed a combined 12 during that time. While he could never fill the shoes of Maclin or Jackson, his consistency from the slot kept the Eagles passing game afloat whenever the team was without their top two weapons.

Avant’s name will never be etched in Eagles record books. He’ll never be remembered as an all-time great at the position. His legacy may be lost in the grand scheme of the NFL, but it’ll never be lost by the fans in this city.

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