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Eagles training camp position preview: Wide receiver.
Philadelphia Eagles training camp is right around the corner! Players are scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex on July 27. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles’ roster. We continue today by taking a look at the wide receiver position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back.
So friggin’ excited to watch this guy dominate in camp before thriving in the regular season. Seriously, DeVonta has the potential to be pretty darn good from the jump. Not crazy to think he could be the best Eagles rookie receiver ever. He’s just so talented; there isn’t really a major weakness to his game. But what about his size?! You mean, the same size that hasn’t limited him in any meaningful way thus far? Yeah, not sweating that. Smith is easily the Eagles’ best receiver and should be their primary volume target. A trusty weapon for Jalen Hurts to work with now that the Alabama alumni are reunited.
A lot of excuses have been made for Reagor’s poor rookie season. Injury issues, bad coaching, bad player development, bad quarterback play, etc. And there’s some legitimacy to some of those points.
But one shouldn’t merely assume Reagor will be totally fine moving forward. There were real concerns about him coming out of TCU (many of which were also too easily excused) that were also apparent in the NFL last year. Look at this Michael Kist blurb from April 2020:
“His 2019 tape does raise some concerns even when taking into account the abysmal quarterback play. Reagor didn’t seem committed to selling decoy routes, blocking, or squeezing every yard out of his opportunities after the catch. That last concern comes up in the analytics, as his YAC average dropped considerably over the last three years (7.8 > 5.9 > 3.8) and he only broke a total of 5 tackles in ‘19. You can explain some of that away by arguing poor placement, but too many times Reagor was in self-preservation mode and sought out the sidelines.”
Sure sounds familiar.
Further, Reagor’s struggles are troubling when placed in a historical context. Not the best company to be keeping:
From this 11:
1 good player (Williams, limited by back injury as a rookie)
2 slow developers (Davis, Agholor)
8 busts (the rest)
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) May 26, 2021
Earlier this offseason, wide receiver expert Matt Harmon told The SB Nation NFL Show that Reagor was a total “mess as a route runner.” Harmon said Reagor had just a 40.8% success rate versus man coverage, which is the second-worst rate he’s EVER charted.
So, yeah, I’ll repeat what I’ve previously said about Jalen Hurts here. It’s not crazy to think this 22-year-old player can improve. Reagor can benefit from working with both a new coaching staff and a new starting quarterback. But Reagor has a wide gap to bridge when it comes to being a legitimately good wide receiver.
Would be nice to see Reagor looking good in camp. Lots of pressure on him to step up in Year 2. Not just for the sake of this season but for the sake of him being a legitimate long-term piece for the Eagles to build around.
As the oldest receiver on the team at just 26 years old (seriously!), Ward is viewed as a leader in his position room. That much really underscores the youth at this position.
Ward was recently discussed in BGN’s “most overrated Eagles players” article:
I think people mistake him not being an abject disaster, unlike some other Eagles receivers, for him being legitimately good. Ward is properly rated as a fourth or fifth wide receiver but ideally shouldn’t be a starter. He ranked 110th out of 112 wide receivers in yards per route run last year. It’s very nice that he can actually catch the football (not to be taken for granted, as we’ve come to learn) but he’s just not particularly big or fast or dynamic out there.
Look, I don’t enjoy pointing out Ward’s flaws because it’s easy to admire how he defied the odds to reach this point. But the reality is he’s just not one of the Eagles’ top three receivers. And he was taking reps in the slot with the first team offense during spring drills, so there’s concern that the team might be overvaluing him. He’s more ideally suited to be a fourth or fifth option.
Whereas Ward drew mention in the “overrated” article, Fulgham was the pick for the Eagles’ most underrated offensive player:
Not a ton of great options to pick from when the offense isn’t very good. But I’ll go with Travis Fulgham here. Some might have him as their most overrated pick, saying that the multi-week stretch where he led the NFL in receiving yards was a total fluke. And maybe those skeptics will be proven right. But I’m not ready to give up on Fulgham. He was pretty dang impressive when he was at his peak last year! If the Eagles coaching staff can help light a fire under him and he responds well to it, he could be a quality starting X receiver for this team. He has size and talent. Just needs to be locked in from a mental standpoint. One can hope he learned from being benched last year. Maybe being around a total dog in DeVonta Smith can also help drive him?
Given how they’re not merely handing him a starting job, the Eagles seem to be trying to motivate Fulgham to give the team his very best this summer. It would be nice to see him really step up and cement himself as a starter on this team.
Watkins flashed some potential in limited playing time down the stretch last year. Can he build on that progress with a strong camp this summer? The 2020 sixth-round pick seems to have a rapport with Jalen Hurts, which could help his case as he fights for a roster spot.
JJAW’s in a weird position. He did some nice things in camp and the preseason as a rookie before struggling to make an impact during the regular season. Then it looked like he turned the corner with a good camp last year but he was invisible in the regular season once again. So, what can he truly prove to the Eagles in camp/practice this year?
Hightower had a strong camp last year but fell out of favor during the regular season. And not undeservedly so! Hightower ranked 150th out of 150 wide receivers graded by Pro Football Focus last year. Eagles quarterbacks had a league-worst 15.2 passer rating when targeting him, lol. For context, the next worst mark was more than double that figure at 35.7. Though he’s only in his second year, Hightower is already 25 years old. One must question how much he can reasonably improve. And it’s not like he’s at least a special teams contributor, having logged zero snaps on that unit last season. Hightower’s very much in jeopardy of being cut.
Walker posted some respectable return numbers at Boston College. He’s a long shot to stick on the roster but he can garner attention with some long kick/punt returns in the preseason.
Listed at 21 years old, Ausbon is the youngest player on the Eagles’ roster. The undrafted rookie free agent from Texas A&M has his work cut out for him to even make the practice squad.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?
DeVonta figures to lead all Eagles receivers in targets. Reagor and Fulgham should be the other two starters when the Eagles are in 11 personnel. Ward might be in line for more playing time than he ideally should receive. Watkins might be able to enter the top four with a strong summer. Watkins, JJAW, and Hightower are realistically competing for a fifth spot, though the Eagles might just keep six receivers. There will be at least one odd man out.
WHO COULD BE A SURPRISE CUT?
There’s a non-zero chance Fulgham could get cut if he really dogs it in camp. That’s not the most likely outcome but two teams did previously waive him and he fell out of favor with the coaching staff last year.
JJAW and Hightower shouldn’t qualify as “surprise” cuts but they would be notable ones. I’m sorry to remind you that JJAW was taken at No. 57 in the 2019 NFL Draft while Hightower was a 2020 fifth-round selection.
(Note: After voting in the poll below, CLICK HERE and vote in the QB confidence poll that I forgot to originally include on Monday. D’oh.)