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August 04, 2023

Eagles training camp game ball: Quez Watkins is running away with the slot receiver job

Continuing with PhillyVoice's 'game ball' training camp series, Quez Watkins and Nolan Smith had big days at Eagles practice on Friday morning.

In addition to tracking Jalen Hurts' training camp stats in our "Hurts Watch" series and Jimmy Kempski's daily practice notes, we've been giving out a "game ball" to an offensive and defensive player after every Eagles training camp practice here at PhillyVoice. On Friday morning, a struggling wideout at a career crossroad is shining and a first-round rookie looks primed to be an immediate contributor.

Here's more on how Quez Watkins and Nolan Smith performed in the latest Eagles camp practice...

Offensive game ball: WR Quez Watkins

Watkins was persona non grata all offseason in Philadelphia following a disappointing 2022 campaign capped off with a costly drop in the Super Bowl. Watkins owned the drop after the Super Bowl, but his stock unquestionably took a hit. With the Eagles bringing in another slot receiver in Olamide Zaccheaus this offseason, it appeared that Watkins' job could be in jeopardy. I was not alone in thinking that, discussing that as a key positional battle in my training camp battle

The competition thus far in camp hasn't been close. Zaccheaus has gotten very few targets in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, regardless if it's with the first- or second-team offense. 

Watkins particularly looked great in 1-on-1 drills on Friday, making leaping acrobatic catches on great throws from Jalen Hurts, the type of deep balls he absolutely needs to haul in with the minimal opportunities he receives playing next to A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.

Both Hurts and Nick Sirianni praised Watkins' offseason work during OTAs, which I took as mostly trying to prop up a player who's been maligned by the fan base. Hey, there were even kids chanting "Quez don't drop it!" repeatedly at Tuesday's practice when Watkins was fielding kickoffs in a special teams drill. We'll really see what Watkins is made of the next time his number is called in a clutch situation come the regular season (or the playoffs!), but Eagles fans should be encouraged by Watkins' summer performance. 

I'm ready to call this slot receiver race for Watkins. 

Defensive game ball: Edge Rusher Nolan Smith

Smith continues to be the most impressive rookie in Eagles camp. It’s been on display all week with a strong performance on Thursday and it was more of the same on Friday morning.

The Eagles’ defensive scheme has increasingly used Smith as an off-ball linebacker rusher, a difference than being a more traditional defensive end in his Georgia Bulldog days. Smith was compared to Haason Reddick in the pre-draft process and with Reddick not a full practice participant with a groin injury, he’s been playing that role.

Smith is going to win at the NFL with his athleticism until he bulks up as his career progresses. His pure speed rush has been a killer in 1-on-1 reps, winning against not just backups like veteran Dennis Kelly, but entrenched starting left tackle Jordan Mailata. That burst looks effortless in real time. 

He's even looking good working with the special teams unit:

The Eagles are deep at defensive end. To get on the field, Smith may need to play even more in this Reddick-lite hybrid position. It’s only early August, but Smith looks ready for that challenge.

Next Eagles practice: Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field!

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