The wide receiver position is no longer a weakness in Philadelphia. Hallelujah.
In fact, it’s a strength now. With the additions of A.J. Brown and Zach Pascal, the Eagles wide receiving corps is one of the best units in the NFL. Pairing Brown with second-year wideout DeVonta Smith, along with the natural development of Quez Watkins and others, should give Jalen Hurts plenty of weaponry to work with on the outside.
Let’s breakdown the position and predict how they may fare in 2022.
The Main Trio: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins
The duo of Brown and Smith is arguably the best one-two punch in the NFL. Brown’s physicality and big play ability perfectly complements Smith’s precise route running in the short to intermediate range.
Last season, Smith broke the Eagles rookie record for receiving yards, racking up 916 yards on the season. Not only did he eclipse DeSean Jackson’s rookie record, it was the most yards by an Eagles receiver in a season since Jordan Matthews totaled 997 in 2015. The next two receivers on the Eagles depth chart last season, Watkins and Jalen Reagor, accounted for 946 yards combined.
Smith was the best receiver on the roster by a mile last season, and he may still be the best wideout even after the addition of Brown. Though, the gap isn’t nearly as wide.
Brown has been a force ever since entering the league in 2019. He became the only receiver in the modern era to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark while averaging 20+ yards per reception as a rookie.
Brown is one of the best receiver in the league when facing man coverage, per Pro Football Focus. In 2021, Brown posted a 90.9 receiving grade when facing man coverage and his quarterback had a 117.3 rating when throwing his way against man.
While Brown is one of the most exciting young wideouts in the game, he still has a ways to go before he’s a bonafide All-Pro talent. Over his three years in the NFL, Brown has never finished inside the top-16 in receiving yardage, despite eclipsing 1,000 yards in his first two seasons. He wasn’t a volume receiver with Tennessee and that probably won’t change in Philly — unless Jalen Hurts becomes an efficient passer that can confidently throw 30-35 passes per game.
It may be more indicative of the offensive system that Brown played in than anything else. The only team in the league that ran the ball more than Tennessee last season was Philadelphia, so the chances of Brown racking up 90-100 catches for close to 1,500 yards is unlikely.
Aside from the two outside receivers, we have Quez Watkins, who had a breakout season in 2021 as the Eagles primary slot receiver. From year one to two, Watkins increased his receptions from 7 to 43 and his yardage from 106 to 647.
Watkins is easily the fastest receiver on the roster, but we already knew that heading into last year. Throughout the 2021 season, Watkins proved he was more than just a deep threat. He had consistent hands, posting a drop percentage of just 2.6, and he showcased his ability to make contested catches, recording 14 total on the year.
If Watkins takes another step forward this season, the Eagles top trio of wideouts will be a nightmare to face on Sunday’s.
Depth Behind the Starters
Things get a little interesting when you look down the Eagles depth chart a bit. Zach Pascal and Jalen Reagor will compete for the fourth wide receiver spot and it figures to be one of the best camp competitions this year.
A lot of Eagles fans are out on Reagor and I understand why. But I still have faith in the kid and I think this’ll be the year we finally see the former first-round pick make a positive impact. He may never truly live up to the first-round hype, but he certainly has all the physical tools to be a competent NFL receiver.
As for Pascal, my expectations aren’t overly high for him, but I recognize the importance of adding a guy like him to the receivers room. He’s a stabilizer. He’ll do the dirty work without asking for more targets and he’ll provide a veteran presence to a young crop of receivers. Even if his production is low, having a veteran like Pascal is always important.
Behind Pascal and Reagor, we’ll have another competition to see who can claim the final receiver spot on the roster.
Greg Ward is the front-runner, but there are a handful of interesting names to keep an eye on once camp rolls around. Devon Allen, Deon Cain, and Britain Covey all have intriguing skill sets and were standouts during OTA sessions.
Allen is a track star who might be the fastest overall player on the team. Cain played under Sirianni with the Colts. And Covey is an undrafted rookie who will be looking to prove himself during camp. Watching these receivers, along with the starters, should be a lot of fun once training camp rolls around.
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