July 18, 2020
Over the next few weeks or so (basically whenever there isn't other news to cover), we'll take a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team heading into training camp, assuming, you know, there is a training camp.
Training camp previews
Today we'll look at the wide receivers. Here's a look at the depth chart, if we were to sort the receivers by X, Z, and slot, but certainly, a guy like Jalen Reagor isn't going to sit in favor of Greg Ward or J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, if he looks good. Or, to give another example, Quez Watkins' standing on the team is obviously more secure than Shelton Gibson's or Robert Davis'. In other words, don't make too much of this:
|X||J.J. Arcega-Whiteside||Robert Davis||Shelton Gibson||Khalil Tate||Alshon Jeffery (likely PUP)|
|Z||DeSean Jackson||Jalen Reagor||John Hightower||Quez Watkins||Manasseh Bailey|
|Slot||Greg Ward||Marquise Goodwin||Deontay Burnett||Marcus Green|
In the aftermath of Jackson's indefensible sharing of a quote he attributed to Hitler on Instagram, he was in danger of being released by the team. After a few weak apologies, Jackson has since taken more notable steps toward understanding his mistake, as he has agreed to visit both the Holocaust Museum as well as the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
As we noted a couple weeks ago, the football ramifications of releasing Jackson are not good, (a) because they badly need him to produce on the field this season, and (b) he would count for a lot of dead money on the cap if they released him.
In his only full game with the Eagles in 2019, Jackson had 8 catches for 154 yards and 2 TDs. It was all a tease, as Jackson played just 15 snaps (11 at Atlanta, 4 vs. Chicago) the rest of the season. He initially tried unsuccessfully to return from a core injury without surgery, and then later, a mid-season surgery landed him on IR. Had he just had the surgery early in the season, he likely would have been available for the Eagles' stretch run, and could have been a difference-maker.
Prior to the start of the new league year 2020, it felt like the team would address the wide receiver position both in free agency and the draft, seeing as their top three receivers heading into the 2019 season all had varying levels of unreliability:
However, the Eagles passed on the free agent market completely, which showed some level of confidence in Jackson's availability in 2020. Outside of the organization, most close observers of the team assumed that the expectation for Jackson should have been that he would miss time at some point during the 2020 season due to injury, though I guess nobody could have foreseen him posting quotes on Instagram that he attributed to Hitler.
On the bright side, Carson Wentz did seem to connect immediately with Jackson last season on the field and off of it, which carried over into the regular season. Heading into 2020, the Eagles just have to hope Jackson can stay available, and out of the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, the Eagles did a lot of work on Reagor vs. Justin Jefferson, two players they had a high rating on. However, they felt that Jefferson was better in the slot than he was on the outside (a commonly held opinion around the league and outside of it). They felt that in the west coast offense, it's uncommon to have a high-volume slot receiver. If Jefferson wasn't going to be a high-volume target, he wasn't going to be as valuable to the Eagles as he would to other teams around the league.
The Eagles felt that outside lane receivers are the hardest receivers to find, and that the best offenses in the league typically have at least one productive outside lane receiver on the roster. They also felt, obviously, that they already have a number of players like Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert who allow them to play station-to-station offense, but they lacked a young home run threat.
Reagor can be that explosive presence in the offense, as he is a speed demon (despite a disappointing 4.47 40 at the Combine), who can either take the top off the defense down the field, or turn shorter passes into long gains with his run after catch ability.
In June, Doug Pederson was asked if WR Jalen Reagor would be cross-trained, like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was as a rookie during the 2019 season.
"It's the hardest thing we are dealing with with our younger players is not having the grass time in the off-season with phase two and phase three," Pederson said. "But right now, he's going to come in and he's going to learn one position and he is going to learn from DeSean Jackson, and learn everything he can. Obviously the playbook is extensive and we just have to see what he's taken from the off-season to training camp, and then once we see his potential and his growth, then we can use him in multiple spots.
"But one of the things that all of our receivers really have the capability of doing is moving inside, whether they are an outside guy going inside or an inside guy going outside. We'll keep him at one position to start and we'll grow from there."
Of course, that doesn't mean that Reagor will only play if Jackson isn't on the field. If he shows that he can make plays, the Eagles' staff will find ways to get the ball in his hands.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, Arcega-Whiteside was the sixth wide receiver selected, landing in the second round at pick No. 57. In his rookie season, despite ample opportunity to play as a result of numerous injuries to other Eagles wideouts, Arcega-Whiteside finished 25th among rookie receivers with 10 catches, 21st with 169 yards, and 14 rookie receivers had more touchdown catches. He also dropped what should have been a game-winning touchdown against the Detroit Lions Week 3.
In the Eagles' wildcard round loss to the Seahawks, DK Metcalf, a player drafted after Arcega-Whiteside, had 160 receiving yards and a TD, while Arcega-Whiteside only played 12 snaps, fewer than three practice squad receivers the Eagles added to the active roster during the season in Greg Ward, Robert Davis, and Deontay Burnett.
In short, yeah, uh, his rookie season did not go well. In a recent Spanish interview with "100 Yardas" (h/t BGN), Arcega-Whiteside noted that he battled injuries throughout the season, and didn't know which position he would be playing from week to week.
While Arcega-Whiteside sprinkled in the occasional nice catch, he did not look anything like the contested catch monster he was in college. His inability to out-muscle defenders as a rookie disappointed the Eagles.
Looking forward to 2020, Arcega-Whiteside will have every opportunity to win a starting job, and the guess here is that with a slew of speed receivers now on the roster, he will be able to focus on the "X" position that has been occupied by Alshon Jeffery in Doug Pederson's offense for the last three seasons.
Ward was a great story in 2019, catching 28 passes for 254 yards (9.1 YPC) and a game-winning TD against Washington after being called up from the practice squad mid-season. While he doesn't have much explosiveness, Ward simply made the plays he should have made, which is something that could not be said for many Eagles receivers in 2019.
Ward's roster spot is probably secure, as Pederson is likely to rely on his veterans early in the 2020 season, and Ward qualifies as that, at least in comparison to the youth and inexperience at the position otherwise.
Hightower was a JUCO transfer with only two years of experience at the D1 level at Boise State, who will enter the NFL at 24 years of age. He's actually a month older than Derek Barnett. His college numbers:
As you can see, Hightower has a good yards per catch average. However, he's 6'1, 189, with a slender frame, so there will be concerns about his ability to beat press coverage in the pros. He ran a 4.43 at the Combine.
There was some debate in the fifth round in the Eagles' war room on whether they were going to take Hightower or Watkins in the fifth round, and when Watkins was still there in the sixth, they just kind of went, "Screw it, get them both."
Watkins is yet another speed guy who had solid production at Southern Miss, particularly in 2019:
Watkins blazed a 4.35 at the Combine, and he has some contested catch ability as well.
Goodwin had his best season in 2017, when he caught 56 passes for 962 yards and 2 TDs. His career yards per catch average is 16.6. The cost to acquire him wasn't much. Basically the Eagles swapped sixth round picks with the Niners, moving back 19 spots, and then they were able to get him to agree to lower his salary from $3,950,000 to $1,350,000 (with the potential for incentives), per Mike Kaye of NJ.com.
So why so cheap? Injuries. Goodwin began each of the last two seasons as a starter, but did not finish as one, missing 12 games along the way.
To begin, Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan described knee and ankle injuries that Goodwin suffered as "chronic," when they placed him on IR in December of last season. So that's not good.
But even more alarming is Goodwin's history of head injuries. In the sixth game of the season in 2019, his last as a starter, Goodwin was knocked out of the game on the following hit, and he sat out of the Niners' next two games. (You'll see him taking a shot while running a crosser from the left side of the formation to the right, and then remaining face down on the field.)
Goodwin had previously suffered five concussions in a 17-month span in 2016 and 2017, as compiled by SportsInjuryPredictor.com.
The concussion that occurred in Week 17 in 2017 was a scary one.
After that five-concussion run, Goodwin has not been able to find the same level of success that he had in his breakout season in 2017, and his days as a starting NFL receiver are very likely over. However, he does make some sense in something of a "DeSean Jackson short-term insurance" role.
Should Jackson go down for a game here or there (as we should expect), or should he need some in-game rest, Goodwin's speed is well-known around the league, and could fill Jackson's role.
He could serve in short spurts as a low-target speed receiver, who could force opposing defenses to continue to respect the threat of getting beaten over the top, thus keeping the short-to-intermediate areas of the field unclogged for the likes of Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and Miles Sanders.
Davis has intriguing athleticism, but he only had one catch for 6 yards for the Eagles, despite playing in three games (103 snaps). In fairness, he did have this nice catch negated by a Big V holding penalty.
Davis is a player who could have benefited from a long look in camp that he now likely won't get.
Burnett isn't as athletically gifted as Davis, but he is a smooth route runner with good hands. He played in one game for the Eagles last season, making two catches for 48 yards. He added one catch for 5 yards in the playoffs against the Seahawks. Burnett could compete with Ward in the slot.
Yes, Gibson is somehow still around, but he made a big play in the playoff game against the Seahawks, when he drew a 39-yard pass interference call that at least put the Eagles in position to tie the game late. The selections of Hightower and Watkins make him a long shot.
Green was a drafted player in 2019 (sixth round, Falcons) who Atlanta waived at 53-man cutdowns. The Eagles snatched him up, and he spent the entirety of the season on their practice squad. He's a little guy (5'8, 191) with some return ability (five return TDs in college).
Tate was a three-year starter at quarterback at Arizona, and he has a fun highlight reel.
The Eagles have taken fliers on former college quarterbacks in the past, like Ward, Trey Burton, and Braxton Miller, among others. Tate's best chance is probably to make the practice squad, where he can be a long-term project at receiver.
Bailey is a 2020 UDFA out of Morgan State. 54-996-10 as a senior, only eight career return attempts. Reportedly ran a 4.39 40.
And finally, there's Jeffery, who is almost certain to training start camp on the PUP list. We updated his standing with the team on Tuesday.
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