Next in our ongoing series, we will be taking a look at the Eagles wide receivers. This has been perhaps the most scrutinized position on the roster the last four years. In fact, in two of the four seasons that Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson have been in control of the offense, it can be argued that they were working with the worst WR group in the NFL. What’s the position’s outlook for year 5 of the duo?
Eagles Positional Breakdown Archives
Jackson’s return was a welcome one before the 2019 season. The Eagles were sorely lacking a deep threat wide receiver, so GM Howie Roseman went and acquired the best one in NFL history and extended him for three years. Reports of Jackson’s instant chemistry with Wentz in training camp had fans drooling thinking about the big plays to come. Those dreams became reality in week 1 against Jackson’s former team where he caught 8 passes for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns.
And he’s gone
Then the injury came. Jackson played in just 3 games and saw a total of 10 targets after suffering an abdominal muscle strain in the second game against the Falcons. He eventually returned in week 9 against the Bears, playing just a handful of snaps before re-aggravating the injury and finally having surgery and being shut down for the season.
It’s reasonable to think it would’ve been better for the Eagles and Jackson to decide for have him to have the surgery early in the season instead of trying to rehab it. Perhaps if Jackson had the surgery not long after the initial injury in week 2, he may have been able to return for the Eagles for their playoff push.
One thing is for certain now regardless of how the injury was handled. The Eagles cannot rely on Jackson to be available for all 16 games of a season. He will turn 34 in December. He hasn’t played in 16 games since, ironically enough, 2013 which was his last season with the Eagles before being cut by Chip Kelly. In fact, that was the ONLY season of Jackson’s career that he played a full season. Since his age 30 season in 2016, Jackson has played in 41 of a possible 64 regular season games.
Without Jackson on the field, the Eagles reverted back to being a slow and plodding offense. They put all their eggs in one basket on the speed front and were burned dramatically when that option disappeared. They failed to find a suitable replacement for Jackson after he was injured and the offense suffered from it. Which leads us to the next player.
The Eagles selected Reagor with the 21st overall pick in the 2020 Draft. Below is a Party on Broad video breakdown of Reagor’s time at TCU.
Jalen Reagor certainly fits the bill of a deep threat, despite clocking in with a disappointing 4.47 at the combine. However, a study from CBS Sports with data from a company named Slants clocked Reagor as the second fastest receiver in the draft with the ball in his hands in college, topping off at 20.8 MPH. Of course, the flaw there is it doesn’t tell us anything when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Nevertheless, there is reason to not be too worried about his disappointing 40 yard dash time at the combine, especially considering he had a 42 inch vertical jump.
However, the biggest question mark with Reagor is his drops. In 2019, he dropped 9 of 92 targeted passes according to Sports Info Solutions. In 2018, that number was 6 of 137. Some of the problems in 2019 can be attributed to abysmal quarterback play at TCU, but that doesn’t wash it all away. Of course, drops can be a subjective stat, but anyway you look at it it is worrying for Reagor. The Eagles have had more than their full share of drops the last few years. They need Reagor to improve in this area.
Reagor is going to be under immense pressure from day one in Philadelphia. It was no secret the Eagles desperately needed to improve their WR group. They opted to not address it at all in free agency and instead to focus solely on the draft. Reagor was the first receiver they selected and was taken in the first round, therefore the expectations are going to be high. Add in the fact that CeeDee Lamb, one of the consensus three best receivers in the draft, went just five picks before at number 17 to the hated Dallas Cowboys. Reagor is going to be constantly compared to DeSean Jackson, the man he is likely to replace, Lamb, the man that most fans wanted who went to a division rival, and Justin Jefferson, the receiver chosen one pick after him who was considered as the more well rounded prospect.
In addition to that pressure, Reagor is entering an NFL where he is going to have to learn a new offense and build chemistry with new teammates in a drastically reduced off-season training schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All NFL rookies will be in a similar situation. Reagor is even more so affected because he is not only expected to step in and contribute immediately, the Eagles NEED him to do so.
Jeffery easily had the worst season of his career in 2019. He played in just 10 games and was banged up practically the entire season. His season came to a merciful end after suffering a Lisfranc injury in December. In the games he played in, he posted woeful numbers with just 490 yards and 4 touchdowns on 43 catches. That is the second lowest yardage total of his career (he had 367 his rookie year) but the worst yards per catch of his entire career with a 11.4 mark. Jeffery also had a 4.1 drop percentage and logged just 36 first downs after accounting for 56 the year before. He also may or may not have anonymously trashed the starting quarterback in the media for the second straight season.
Bitter pill to swallow
An optimist would say there’s nowhere to go but up for Jeffery. A realist would see that he is 30 years old and is coming off of the worst season of his career and a major foot injury. Couple that with the whopping $26M cap hit the Eagles would face if they released him, and Jeffery is officially an albatross. The Eagles should continue to do whatever they can to move on from him without suffering too heavy a cost on their already limited salary cap. But who would trade for an aging, expensive receiver coming off of his worst season and who won’t even be ready for the start of next season?
Jeffery cannot be counted on to contribute almost anything this season and anything he does add should be seen as a bonus.
The Eagles acquired Goodwin for practically nothing during the draft. We covered the trade in detail here, but to summarize, he too cannot be counted on for much due to his injury history. It’s not even necessarily a lock that Goodwin makes the team. The trade was a low risk with potential high reward. Odds are against that high reward.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this. Arcega-Whiteside was downright awful in his rookie season. He had just 10 catches on 19 targets for 169 yards. He was ranked 130th among WRs in yards and tied for 137th in receptions according to Pro Football Focus. The rookie struggled to get on the field even as the Eagles receivers were decimated by injuries, and when he was given opportunities he squandered them in almost spectacular fashion.
Taking JJAW in the second round now seems like a disaster. Taking him over D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin certainly seems like malpractice. The only small sliver of hope the Eagles can have for him is that he was a rookie and has plenty of time to improve. It’s hard to be any worse than he was in his rookie year. He even had a hard time running routes and at times collided with his own teammates downfield.
The Eagles must view anything they get from JJAW as a bonus despite 2020 being only his second year. His high draft position is the only thing saving his roster spot.
Ward was one of the best stories of the Eagles 2019 season. The former practice squad member stepped up in a big way when the Eagles other receivers were (metaphorically and literally) dropping the ball.
Ward appeared in 7 games played and 3 starts. He caught 28 (18 of which for first downs) of his 40 targets for 254 yards and a touchdown. His lone score was a spectacular game winning catch against Washington that kept the Eagles season alive.
Ward deserves a spot on the team and has an outside shot at becoming the starter in the slot. He will have to fend off competition from the Eagles rookies and other various practice squad players. Chances are in a shortened off-season that Ward will be on the roster.
Hightower was chosen in the fifth round by the Eagles at number 168 overall. He is another speedy receiver, clocking in with a 4.43 dash time at the combine. Hightower likely lasted as long as he did in the draft due to the deep WR class. It will be interesting to see what chances he’s given to show his explosive ability. He will most likely be in direct competition with Goodwin for playing time.
Watkins was a sixth round selection at number 200 overall. As you may have guessed, he also possesses great speed, with an elite 4.35 dash. The Eagles receiver room is a little crowded, despite all the question marks. Watkins will have to compete to earn a spot. To be determined how camp battles will work in this pandemic-shortened off-season. However, Watkins may have a good chance of making the team as a return man, seeing that Darren Sproles retired and Corey Clement can’t stay healthy.
Robert Davis, Shelton Gibson, Marcus Green, Deontae Burnett
These four would usually be classified as camp bodies who have to battle it out for a spot on the practice squad. However, with roster numbers and the number of practices up in the air due to the pandemic, it’s anybody’s guess as to what is to happen to the back end of the roster players.
Position Grade and Final Thoughts
I noticed a few phrases over the course of this breakdown that kept popping up in my evaluation of this group: “can’t be counted on”, “can’t be expected to”, “any contribution should be seen as a bonus.” The Eagles have, at a minimum, four receivers who fit at least one of those categories. That is a serious problem. It is especially bad when two of them (Jackson, Jeffery) are your theoretical starters.
The Eagles needed to drastically improve their wide receivers following last season. On paper they did, but not by much. It would be hard to field a worse group than what Carson Wentz was working with in the final weeks of the season. It is debatable whether it was enough improvement. They solved their lack of speed, but it’s fair to wonder if they over-corrected that need. Did they pass on more talented players because they targeted speed? Neglecting the position in free agency also very well might spell doom for this team in 2020.
No one could have predicted the circumstances with the pandemic. But, the reality is that the Eagles are asking Reagor especially and other rookies to step in and immediately contribute to at least expectations. That is a tall order in a normal off-season. This year there is going to most likely be only two preseason games and there’s a good chance there is none. These young players are going to have to learn the ropes in a reduced training camp. Then they will be thrown immediately into the fire if/when the season starts. That does not inspire much confidence.