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July 07, 2023

Eagles 2023 training camp preview: Wide receiver

What will the Eagles get from a talented receiving group in 2023 that includes stars A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith?

Eagles NFL
6.1.23_Eagles-Olamide-Zaccheaus_ColleenClaggett-9880.jpg Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Olamide Zaccheaus (13) will challenge Quez Watkins for the starting slot receiver job.

Over the next three or so weeks (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. Today we'll look at the wide receivers.

Previous training camp previews

Quarterback | Running back

First, the depth chart:

 WRA.J. Brown Tyrie Cleveland Joseph Ngata 
 WRDeVonta Smith Devon AllenGreg WardCharleston Rambo 
 SlotQuez Watkins Olamide ZaccheausBritain Covey
Jadon Haselwood 

A.J. Brown

In his first season with the Eagles, Brown quickly built rapport with Jalen Hurts in training camp, and was an immediate force in the Eagles' offense, going off for 10 catches and 155 yards in his Week 1 debut against the Lions. He finished the season with 88 catches for 1,496 yards (for a lofty 17.0 YPR) and 11 TDs on his way to Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors. He is the best wide receiver the Eagles have had since that one season of Terrell Owens.

There's probably not a lot to look for out of Brown in training camp. He probably just needs to get his work in with Hurts, skip the preseason entirely, and just be ready for New England Week 1.

DeVonta Smith

Smith is a star receiver in his own right, as he finished with 95 receptions for 1,196 yards (12.6 YPR) and 7 TDs. He also had a strong showing in the playoffs, including a 100-yard performance in the Super Bowl.

Smith is a slick route-running body control freak who perfectly compliments the more physical Brown. While only heading into his third season, Smith is already a very polished professional receiver who should only continue to get better. 

Quez Watkins

After a rookie season in 2020 during which he had seven catches for 106 yards and 1 TD, Watkins made significant strides in his second season in 2021. He had a fantastic training camp and earned a starting spot in the Eagles' offense. On the season, Watkins had 43 catches for 647 yards and one TD. He ranked third on the team both in receptions and receiving yards, with a big gap between himself and the rest of the Eagles' receivers below him.

Watkins entered 2022 with an interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, expectations for his play were heightened because of the promise he showed in 2021. On the other hand, he was losing his starting job as a result of the trade for Brown, and his production was surely going to decline even if his play on the field didn't.

What the Eagles asked of Watkins was to make the most of the opportunities that came his way, and he largely disappointed. 

  1. He fumbled after a catch deep down the field in a loss against Washington. The Eagles might have otherwise won that game.
  2. He was directly responsible for interceptions in games against the Bears and Cowboys as a result of sloppy route running, and seemed to lose the trust of the Eagles' staff on any sort of precision or timing routes thereafter. 
  3. In the Super Bowl, the Eagles dialed up a shot play for him that he probably should have made, but didn't.

Watkins finished the 2022 season with 33 catches for 354 yards and (10.7 YPR) and three TDs.

Even with all the frustrating mistakes that Watkins made in 2022, he brings a valuable commodity to the table — speed. The Eagles also believe that Watkins has inside/outside versatility, meaning that he's probably the first option on the outside should Brown or Smith go down. 

Watkins will still have a roster spot in 2023, unless he has a really bad summer in camp (not expected) or some other team out there deficient in speed at the position makes the Eagles a decent enough trade offer. What Watkins doesn't have in 2023 is a guaranteed starting spot in the slot, as he'll be challenged by newcomer Olamide Zaccheaus.

Olamide Zaccheaus

Zaccheaus was the No. 3 option in the Falcons' passing offense last season behind TE Kyle Pitts and WR Drake London. He finished the season with 40 catches for 533 yards (13.3 YPC) and 3 TDs. Here's a snapshot of his career production:

Olamide Zaccheaus Rec Yards YPC TD 
2019  3 115 38.3 
2020  20 274 13.7 
2021  31406 13.1 
2022  40533 13.3 

As you can see, Zaccheaus' receptions and yards have improved each season that he has been in the NFL. In 2022, Falcons quarterbacks completed 65.6 percent of their passes when they went Zaccheaus' way. Marcus Mariota was the Falcons' starting quarterback to begin the season, but he was benched with four games to go, and Desmond Ridder started the rest of the season.

In 13 games with Mariota, Zaccheaus made 32 receptions on 44 targets, for a catch rate of 72.7 percent. By comparison, Kyle Pitts caught 47.5 percent of his targets in Mariota starts, and Drake London caught 58.0 percent of his targets. In Mariota starts:

 Falcons WRs/TEs in Mariota startsComp % when targetedYards per target 
Olamide Zaccheaus 72.7% 10.9 
Drake London 58.0% 6.6 
Kyle Pitts 47.5% 6.0 

In April we cut up video of all of Zaccheaus' targets in 2022. He wasn't running a ton of high percentage in-out option routes all day. He had his share of down the field targets. When the Falcons made the switch to Ridder, a lot of wildly off-target throws went Zaccheaus' way.

Zaccheaus' 2022 usage was similar in many ways to Quez Watkins' usage in 2021. Both Zaccheaus and "2021 Watkins" were their teams' No. 2 wide receivers in run-heavy offenses, getting significantly fewer targets than a rookie No. 1 (Smith for the Eagles, London for the Falcons) and a talented tight end (Dallas Goedert for the Eagles, Pitts for the Falcons). Zaccheaus got 61 targets in 2022. Watkins got 62 targets in 2021. Zaccheaus and Watkins were utilized similarly, as Zaccheaus was often a down-the-field target in Atlanta's offense. 

While Zaccheaus has good speed, he does not have Watkins-level speed, but he was a more reliable receiver for Atlanta than Watkins was for Philly in 2022. That will be a fun training camp battle to watch.

Britain Covey

Covey was the team's primary punt returner all season long in 2022, but only played 19 offensive snaps, all in garbage time. 

Covey's rookie season got off to a bad start, as he had two fumbles and averaged 6.8 yards per punt return in the Eagles' first 10 games. However, the Eagles stuck with him and over the last 10 games (including the playoffs) Covey played well, averaging 13.3 yards per return with no fumbles.

 Britain CoveyPunt returns Yards YPR Fumbles 
First 10 games 19 130 6.8 
 Last 10 games 16 213 13.3 

Covey's best game came against the Titans when he had returns of 11, 20, 16, 27, 25, and 6 yards. He also had a good showing in the Super Bowl, returning two punts for 35 yards. In fact, 11 of Covey's 16 returns during the last 10 games of the Eagles' season went for at least 10 yards. He did a much better job of (a) getting the yards that were there instead of running horizontally, and (b) making the first guy miss.

We cut up all of Covey's returns in 2022 in a review of him in June, for those of you who should probably be spending better use of your time. 😍

Covey is an extremely low-cost player who showed legitimate improvement in his role as the season progressed, and should be back as the team's primary punt returner once again. It's probably worth noting that the primary kick returner is Boston Scott, who as of right of now is the RB4. Since the Eagles are unlikely to carry four active running backs on gameday, Covey might also be the primary kick returner in 2023, especially with the new rule changes that give the offense the ball at the 25-yard line after fair catches.

Covey will also be given opportunities in camp and in preseason games to show what he can do in the regular offense.

Devon Allen

Allen is a three-time U.S. national champion in the 110-meter hurdles who recently claimed that he is the fastest player in the NFL. Allen actually had the Eagles' play of the preseason in 2022.

I wondered last year at 53-man cutdowns if the Eagles would keep Allen, fearing that some other team would scoop him up because of his elite speed. As it turned out, Allen was cut, he cleared waivers, and spent the 2022 season on the Eagles' practice squad.

Allen was mostly a non-factor during training camp practices. It will be interesting to see what kind of strides he has made as a receiver over the last year, as there's opportunity in the Eagles' offense as a depth player at outside receiver, and perhaps on the kick and punt coverage teams.

Tyrie Cleveland

Cleveland was a 2020 seventh-round pick of the Broncos after a mostly non-productive four-year career at Florida. He has decent size (6'2, 209) and he ran a 4.46 at the 2020 Combine.

Cleveland has toggled back and forth between Denver's 53-man roster and practice squad the last three years, and has appeared in 23 regular season games. The Eagles added him to their practice squad in January.

He could be a sneaky candidate to be the "came from out of nowhere" guy in camp.  

Joseph Ngata

Ngata was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, ranked 27th by

He is a big-bodied wide receiver at 6'3, 217, with 33 1/8" arms and 10 1/4" hands.

Ngata had 88 catches for 1287 yards (14.6 YPC) and 6 TDs over his four-year career at Clemson. His best season was in 2022, when he had 41 catches for 526 yards and 2 TDs. Why wasn't he more productive? Some injuries slowed his progression, and he had difficulty getting open, according to a scouting report from Lance Zierlein:

Former five-star prospect with quality size, speed and length but an inability to separate from press-man coverage. Ngata is a smooth pass-catcher and has decent ball skills, but it takes him too long to elude press. When he gets into the route, it will be tough for him to uncover against NFL quickness and coverage talent.

Here's a nice game that he had against Georgia in 2021: 

If Ngata can use his size to become a quality blocker willing to do some dirty work, he can perhaps carve out some sort of Zach Pascal-type role, but that could be his ceiling.

It's worth noting that Ngata was one of the highest-paid undrafted rookie free agents in the league. That certainly doesn't guarantee him a roster spot, but it shows that the Eagles prioritized him as a signing, and it probably means that he'll be on the practice squad, at a minimum.

Jadon Haselwood

Like Ngata above, Haselwood was a five-star recruit coming out of high school (4th nationally by Rivals, 6th by ESPN).

He is a big 6'2, 215-pound receiver who ran a slow 4.66 40.

Haselwood played three seasons at Oklahoma (including one as a freshman in 2019 with Jalen Hurts) before transferring to Arkansas in 2022. He had his best season there, catching 59 passes for 702 yards and 3 TDs, mostly operating out of the slot. 

He could be another candidate for that Pascal-like role.

Greg Ward

In four seasons with the Eagles, Ward has 88 catches for 768 yards and 10 TDs. In 2021, he had just 7 catches for 95 yards and 3 TDs. Ward is a good story, a true professional, and he has some versatility in that he can at least field punts. In 2022, he spent the entirety of the season on the practice squad.

Ward's role with the 2023 Eagles could be as a practice squad callup / punt fair catcher if Covey is unavailable to play.

Charleston Rambo

Rambo was one of two names that jumped out among the Eagles' rookie minicamp tryout players back in April, and the team eventually signed him to the 90-man roster in May. In his final season in college at Miami, Rambo caught 79 passes for 1172 yards and 7 TDs, but went undrafted. He signed with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent, but did not make their 53-man roster, and did not spend the season on any team's practice squad. He was drafted into the XFL by the Orlando Guardians, where he finished 10th in the XFL with 430 receiving yards.

Rambo originally enrolled at Oklahoma, where he played with Jalen Hurts for one season in 2019, when he had 43 catches for 743 yards and 5 TDs. Here are some Hurts-to-Rambo connections: 

Rambo is small (177 pounds at the 2022 NFL Combine), and he ran a slow 4.57 40.

He is a longshot to make the roster, but his experience with Hurts is at least mildly interesting.

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