August 14, 2017
It's not often an NFL team's No. 1 receiver is a slot receiver only, but that's what Jordan Matthews was to the Philadelphia Eagles over the last three years, mainly due to a lack of other good options within the offense.
While Matthews' production was artificially inflated due to his oddball No. 1 receiver status, as well as other factors, such as Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense that led to a higher than normal number of snaps, Matthews was still very clearly the best slot receiver on the team. Now that Matthews has been shipped off to the Buffalo Bills as a throw-in with a third-round draft pick to help acquire CB Ronald Darby, the Eagles will have to replace him.
It's probably not just going to be one guy. The Eagles are likely to replace Matthews with a committee of receivers, with varying skill sets.
• Nelson Agholor: Duh. Agholor is the obvious new No. 3 receiver, but he still has a lot to prove. While more athletic than Matthews, Agholor is also far more erratic. Agholor generated a lot of buzz during training camp because he made a number of plays, but his hands remain an issue, as drops have persisted throughout camp and even into the first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers last Thursday.
Agholor has some shiftiness to his game, which should translate well to the slot. Route running and separation haven't been the problems. Can he catch the football consistently? So far throughout his career, the answer is no. To be determined if Agholor can put the drops and mental errors behind him and begin making positive contributions.
• Mack Hollins: My sense is that Hollins' primary spot in this league will be on the outside, but the Eagles can give him some looks in the slot as well. At 6'4, 221, Hollins can give the Eagles a size advantage over smaller slot corners, the same way Matthews did for the Eagles the last three years. Obviously, we all saw on Thursday the type of physical runner Hollins is after he catches the football.
"We'll continue to develop him and work him in multiple spots," said Doug Pederson on Hollins' ability to potentially play in the slot. "One thing about Mack is he's a smart guy. He picks up the offense well and he understands coverage and leverage and things like that."
• Zach Ertz: I have a feeling that you're going to see a ton of Ertz detached from the line and in the slot this year, as a player who is bigger than any safety, and difficult to cover with a linebacker. Additionally, the rapport that Ertz built with Carson Wentz as the season progressed was fairly obvious.
• Trey Burton: Burton got the occasional look in the slot a season ago after an outstanding 2016 training camp. However, his hands will have to become more consistent for the team to give him more playing time.
• Darren Sproles: Sproles' usage in the slot should be no different than it was a year ago. As they've shown, the Eagles like him as a mismatch creator against opposing linebackers.
• Donnel Pumphrey: See Sproles above. "We move so many guys in and out of that position that it's just kind of by design of the offense, by the scheme of the offense," said Pederson. "With the versatility of some of our running backs that we have with Sproles and Pumphrey, they can utilize that position and create some matchups against the defense."
• Marcus Johnson: The Eagles have lined up Johnson outside and in the slot. Before he began missing time with a hamstring injury, Johnson was the breakout player in this year's camp. His role is still yet to be determined, and he's still behind Agholor and Hollins, but he's a near-lock to make the team, provided he can get healthy and resume making plays.
• Greg Ward: Ward is a long shot to have any kind of meaningful role in the Eagles' offense this season, but there's a decent chance he'll make this team as a player who fits best as a slot receiver.
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