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Eagles Draft Preview - Wide Receiver part 1

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It's the one everyone's been waiting for... Could this be the year that Eagles' fans obsession with the Wide Receiver position is satiated with a first round pick? Is this the year the next(first?) great WR comes to Philly? In the next post I'll be going over what's in the draft, but in part one we take a look at what's on the roster currently.

Kevin Curtis makes the Eagles catch of the year?
First and foremost it's Kevin Curtis, who managed to shock most Eagles fans(and the league in general) at just how productive he was in his first year here. 77 receptions, 1,110 yds, and 6 TDs. Those are very good numbers no matter how you slice it. Curtis displayed a nice set of hands, superior route running, an ability to get yards after the catch, and developed an immediate rapport with McNabb. Curtis' ability to run that short comeback and turn it upfield for positive yardage became a security blanket for Donovan, almost as much as the dump to Westbrook in the flat. He was remarkably consistent as well. Although his stats were somewhat inflated by his 11 catch, 221 yd, 3 TD performance against Detroit, he rarely disappeared which is a criticism often leveled at Reggie Brown. If you look at Curtis' game log he was pretty much good for around 5 catches and 60-70 yards every game. I think his numbers could dip a bit next year, but I would expect his production to be pretty comparable to this past season.

It's hard to really level much criticism at Curtis. He was absolutely everything he was advertised to be and more. I've heard some people complain that he's not "good enough" to be a "#1 WR" but does that really matter? If you're strictly evaluating Curtis on an individual basis, he was fantastic. I've heard some fans claim that he's "better suited to the slot,"  well when you have the kind of season he did playing on the outside that would be appear to be untrue. Now, if we do pull back and start to look at the big picture some problems do emerge. Do other teams fear Curtis? No. Do other teams gameplan for Curtis and change their defense like they do for Westbrook? No. Does Curtis' presence open up the offense for other guys? No. So if the argument is that this offense still needs another playmaker, a guy who changes defenses like Westbrook, I don't think Curtis is the answer. He remains however, a great signing and an important part of the offense for the next couple years. Curtis will turn 30 this year, but since he entered the NFL at 25 he only has 5 years of service on his body.

Next, it's a guy that has become somewhat of a divisive figure these days... Reggie Brown. Reggie was the 2nd round pick of the Eagles in 2005 and after two straight promising years looked to break out in his 3rd season. While he got better in some areas, very few people would use the phrase "break out" to describe Reggie's 3rd year. As a rookie, he broke most team rookie WR records. As a second year player he caught 8 TDs and averaged almost 18 yards a catch. In year 3, he had a career high 61 receptions but went down in almost every other category. The question is why? As a football player there's things I like about Reggie and things I don't. On the negative side he has questionable hands, although drops were not nearly as a big a problem for him in 07 as they were in 06(maybe a reason for his rise in receptions?) What bothers me most about Reggie is how he doesn't seem to fight for balls. We've seen McNabb on several occasions talk to Reggie after a play where didn't come back for a ball. Unlike Curtis, who is quite good at this, Reggie appears to make his break and then wait for the ball to come to him rather than go get it. While you could lay some blame at McNabb for not delivering better balls, the fact is that any good WR in this league will excel at coming back to the ball and getting his body between the pass and the defender. The reason this frustrates me about Reggie so much leads me to his positives. I see him as a rather strong, rather smart player. He's not afraid to go over the middle and make a tough catch, he will fight with a DB to run his route, and he seems to have a very good grasp of the offense and the playbook. I really believe that if he'd show more of that toughness that I know he has, we'd have a pretty damn good receiver on our hands.

Is this Reggie's year?
So is a Reggie a starting caliber WR in the NFL? Sure. If you look at the sum total of what he's done over the last two years, he's averaged 50+ catches for around 800 yards and 6 TDs. Those are solid, yet unspectacular numbers. For a guy a with 2.5 years of starting experience there's some reason to be optimistic but the time is now for him to make the next step. In my eyes, the way Reggie performs is linked to the way Donovan McNabb performs. You may remember that I made this same argument about LJ Smith. When he plays with a healthy McNabb, LJ's numbers are borderline pro bowl worthy... without him they're shockingly different. Reggie is similar.

When McNabb really hit his stride and started to look his most healthy last year(past the full year mark of his surgery)  guess who had his best run of games as well? Reggie Brown. In those last 3 wins of the season Reggie caught 15 passes for around 200 yards and 2 TDs. Not bad. Had he played at that level all year we'd all probably be very happy with his progress. If you look at 2006, McNabb was fully healthy and started out red hot with the Eagles' offense leading the NFL in scoring for the first 5 or 6 weeks of the season. Reggie was huge part of that catching 5 TDs over the first 7 games. Then the Jacksonville pass rush overwhelms McNabb in week 8, after the bye we bounce back against Washington, and in week 11 against the Titans McNabb is lost for the season. The offense then struggles to find it's legs under Garcia the next week as we get blown out in Indy. Over that 4 game stretch, Reggie catches 6 passes. Then, magically Garcia starts to play well and guess who wakes up? Reggie averaged almost 80 yards a game and caught 2 TDs in the next 4 games.

What does this tell us? Well, maybe Reggie is not the kind of dynamic WR that makes everyone around him better... but he does seem to be a guy that thrives when he gets good QB play. Is anyone else detecting a trend here? We've all heard(and made) the cries for playmakers on this offense, but doesn't it seem like in the end it all comes down to how the QB plays? Bottom line is that when McNabb is healthy, this offense plays well and this team wins. Regardless of whether we bring in another WR or not this year, our fortunes will still be tied to #5.

Let's quickly finish up the WR corps since the first two guys took such an epic amount of analysis... Jason Avant showed that he may have the best hands on the team, he has a good sense of where he is on the field and can make those great sideline catches where he stays in bounds, and he's a tough guy who has no fear going over the middle. That said, he has a noticeable lack of quickness and probably isn't going to be much more than a depth/possession WR at this level. As for Hank Baskett, I'll refer you back to an article I wrote about him in February. Definitely check that out for the full insight, but long story short... let's not forget that Hank went undrafted. I like him and he has some physical skills, but it's very likely that his ceiling is what it is. Greg Lewis, what can you say about him? He'll go several weeks where he barely plays and then he'll show up catch 2 TDs against the Pats. He's obviously a guy that's always going to be fighting for his roster spot, but I've grown to like Greg.

So that's what we've got. Thursday or Friday I will delve fully into what the Eagles may do at the WR position in this year's draft.