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January 10, 2015

There’s a catch…

WR a strength for Birds — with one glaring exception

Eagles NFL

Continuing on once again with our offseason team needs series, let's take a look at the wide receiver position.  We identified WR as the seventh-most glaring need on the team when we began this series. Obviously, if the Eagles fail to retain free agent Jeremy Maclin this offseason, you can go ahead and bump WR way up the list. Here's what we said: 

The good news is that Jeremy Maclin had a breakout season, catching 85 passes for 1318 yards and 10 TDs. The bad news is that he did it in a contract year and is going to get paid. The Eagles don't have much of a choice here. They're going to have to pay Maclin bigtime dollars and keep him on this roster, because they are otherwise thin on the outside.

Opposite Maclin, Riley Cooper had a dreadful season. Cooper made a number of big plays in 2013, but was a big play no-show in 2014. In 10 of 16 games last season, Cooper averaged less than 10 yards per catch:

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He also averaged a paltry 3.0 yards after the catch, which is brutally bad in a spread offense. But he sure can block!

As for the rookies, Jordan Matthews had a very impressive rookie season, falling just 40 yards short of DeSean Jackson's rookie record of 912 receiving yards in 2008. But on the whole, Matthews' rookie season compares well to Jackson's, although he did it much more quietly:

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Matthews spent almost his entire rookie season operating out of the slot. To be determined if the Eagles want to increase his role by moving him outside going forward.

The "other" rookie WR was of course Josh Huff. Rookie mistakes plagued Huff's rookie season, but his talent is fairly obvious. If he can cut out some of the mental lapses and become a more polished receiver, Huff has a high ceiling.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they're stuck with Cooper through the 2015 season, as it will cost them more to cut him than to keep him. But that doesn't mean they should put off adding receivers in the short term because they're already over-paying one.

Wide receiver is a much more fixable position in the NFL than many others. There always seem to be a number a decent options in free agency (as long as you're willing to pay), and recent draft classes have had many attraction options at WR as well. Here are some players who could make sense for Philly in free agency and the draft:

Free agents:

Dwayne Harris, WR, Cowboys (5'10, 202)

Harris has a career 26.5 yard average on 77 career kick returns. He has also scored two TDs and averaged 11.1 yards per return on 87 career punt returns. Here's how that compares to Devin Hester, who is considered by many to be the best returner ever: 

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Harris also led the Cowboys with 11 special teams tackles last season. Obviously, the Eagles went out and made special teams personnel a priority the last two offseasons, and that paid off in a big way in 2014. Why stop now?

But wait? Didn't Darren Sproles just make the Pro Bowl as a returner? Yep, he sure did, but he's also 32, and while Chris Polk and Josh Huff both showed promise as kick returners in 2014, Harris would still be an upgrade.

The harder sell would be to Harris, who returned every punt for the Cowboys in 2014, and all but three kicks. Would he accept a role in which he had to occasionally share returning responsibilities? Perhaps, if he thought he might get more opportunities in the regular offense. As evidenced by his excellent return numbers, Harris can make things happen in open space, which makes him an intriguing option in Chip Kelly's spread offense as a guy you can get the ball to and let him get yards after the catch. He's also considered a good blocker, which we all know is the most valuable attribute ever for a wide receiver.

Draft: 

Kevin White, WR, West Virginia (6'3, 210)

White has great size, is a great leaper, wins contested catches, knows what to do once he has the ball in his hands, and blocks well. Stud. 

Take a look at all the impressive things White can do in this video of his game against Maryland, when he had 13 catches for 216 yards:


A WR trio of Jeremy Maclin (assuming the Eagles retain him), Kevin White, and Jordan Matthews would be extremely difficult to defend. The Eagles would need a little luck for White to fall to them at 20th overall, but he could be in the mix of first round draft pick options for the Birds.

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn (6'2, 200)

Coates can fly, he has great size at 6'2, 200, and is a good blocker coming from Gus Malzahn's run-heavy offense at Auburn. Coates is a work in progress, but his size/speed combo is extraordinarily intriguing.

Here are Coates' career numbers at Auburn. His production is unimpressive, but note the yards per catch:

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Coates is occasionally invisible, but a big play waiting to happen. The Eagles could use that big play ability, something the Eagles missed at times in 2014 sans DeSean Jackson.

With volume catchers like Jeremy Maclin (pending the outcome of free agency), Jordan Matthews, and Zach Ertz, a player like Coates would make sense for a team like the Eagles who can use more of a big play threat than a guy who will catches six or seven passes per game.

Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor (5'10, 225)

Goodley has odd dimensions at 5'10, 225 pounds, and he is extremely strong. According to the Baylor Lariat, he can squat 660 pounds, which is ridiculous for a WR. He is built more like a bruising RB than a WR, and that added bulk shows on tape. He is basically like a stronger, faster, thicker version of Josh Huff. The Eagles have a history under Chip Kelly of bringing in thicker WRs, like Arrelious Benn and Huff. The question is whether or not the Eagles are going to be "collectors" of this type of WR, or if they just want one and they found their guy in Huff.

One of my favorite Goodley plays is this catch and run against Kansas State last season. Watch the explosion, and the Heisman-esque stiff arm at the 45 yard line:


Goodley could potentially be had in the middle rounds.

Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan (6'5, 230)

Funchess' college production was not particularly impressive:

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But... He's big! #NextPlaxico. But in all seriousness, Funchess also has experience as a TE and could give the Eagles a versatile red zone threat / mismatch creator.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State (6'3, 215)

In two seasons with the Sun Devils, Strong, who is from Philly, was very productive:

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The Eagles don't have a receiver who can high point like this and win 50-50 balls:

Stud. Potential first round pick.

Previous positions we reviewed:

  1. Quarterback
  2. Running back

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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