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Eagles wide receiver camp battle: The search for the final pass catcher

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Who will capture the final wide receiver spot this off-season?

Al Bello

Wide receiver is a polarizing position. For Eagles fans, the spot has been an area of high's and low's over the last 15 years. From James Thrash and Todd Pinkston to Greg Lewis and Terrell Owens to Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (and now Riley Cooper), the position has had a mixture of successes and failures. Those results have made Eagles fans seemingly attentive to the position, which is taken seriously from starters to the practice squad.

This off-season, the Eagles have pretty much had a locked up unit. Cooper and Maclin both got new deals to start, while the team drafted Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. Those four have always been considered locks, and due to Chip Kelly's love of special teams, it has been speculated that Swiss army knife Brad Smith is in as well. That has left several fringe players in a battle for a sixth spot that may not exist. The field has been ridiculously inconsistent, which has caused a widespread debate among the fanbase and media.

On the surface, the debate seems ridiculous. It's like arguing over which of Joel Schumacher's Batman movies is the best. They have all played and had their moments, but none of them have really earned a spot. That said, the fourth preseason game will be MASSIVE for those that make it past the first cuts, especially at the wide receiver position.

Let's take a look at the group:

Jeff Maehl

Numbers: Four catches for 19 yards (4.8 YPR)

Maehl is the kind of guy you want as your last wide receiver on most teams. He is an okay last resort at wide receiver, knows the offense well and plays special teams with efficiency. The issue with this team is that the unit is pretty average, so most fans and media are looking at players with upside to contribute this season and beyond. However, Kelly has said that he doesn't look at his roster for the future, so that may put that to rest. With that said, you know what Maehl is. Being familiar with a coach the way Maehl is with Kelly is likely his "golden ticket" if he wins the job.

Arrelious Benn

Numbers: Punt block, One catch for six yards and a touchdown

Benn is easily the biggest name in this group. His special teams prowess has been (wrongly) disputed for weeks, but he showed some life in the Patriots preseason game. He has been kind of forgotten on the field, as he was injured in the first and third preseason games and his only catch came on a drop from another receiver. He needs to stay healthy and play well in Week 4.

Ifeanyi Momah

Numbers: Five catches for 43 yards (8.6 YPR), two fumbles (both lost)

The hype train has slowed down quite a bit for Momah, who showed improved ability in training camp. The issue with Momah is that he is improving from extremely inadequate to passable. Momah clearly has issues blocking and with his hands and still seems like a year or two away from being part of an active roster. Would it be a risk for the Eagles to waive him? Perhaps, if they think he is valuable to the practice squad and a team offers him a fifth receiver role (unlikely). It is just hard to see him contributing this season. He is also not very proficient on special teams.

Quron Pratt

Numbers: Five catches for 59 yards (11.8 YPR)

While he is far from a household name, Pratt has been relatively impressive this off-season. He has been able to rack up catches when he has been targeted in preseason games and seems to be adjusting to the NFL well enough to get open against backups. He is a practice squad candidate for sure, but the Eagles may see something in him that is worth keeping on the active roster. I think already having two rookies in his position group will hurt him.

Damaris Johnson

Numbers: Seven catches for 71 receiving yards (10.1 YPR) and a touchdown; seven carries for 14 yards (2.0 YPC)

Johnson has been "left for dead" by many this off-season, but has really contributed in the last two preseason games. He was impressive against the Steelers and may have played his way into contention for the final wide receiver spot. His issues are that he gets very little yards after the catch and isn't fast for his size. There is also the matter of him being mediocre as a returner and his constant mental errors, which have led to turnovers. He is facing an uphill battle but still has a shot.

The Alternatives

  • Keep an extra running back: With Darren Sproles likely to play all over the offense, the Eagles may be best served with keeping four to five running backs. Henry Josey and Matthew Tucker have looked terrific, but the numbers likely rely on whether or not the Eagles feel like retaining Chris Polk, despite his injury woes.
  • Trey Burton: The undrafted rookie tight end finally stood out against the Steelers on Thursday. He caught back-to-back beautiful passes from Mark Sanchez against Pittsburgh starters and showed the ability to get open. Burton is a definitely a project, but could be a waiver risk. The Eagles may decide that Burton can play a duel role as a fourth tight end and a redzone wide receiver. It would be a reasonable solution if the other wide receivers fail to impress.
  • Waiver Wire: This may be the most likely option, as there will be plenty of talented receivers getting "the chop" after Week 4. There may be players that are worth playing over Huff and Smith as well. Names like Rishard Matthews, Brandon Gibson and Denarius Moore are among those that have been discussed as being on the bubble this preseason.
  • Place Huff on Injured Reserve: This could allow Huff recover and learn this season, while allowing for a waiver wire pickup or two to make an impact immediately. It also could allow for one or two of the six candidates to keep their jobs.

[UPDATE: B.J. Cunningham was initially on this list, but was released during first cuts on Saturday.]