Who is the Eagles' No. 1 wide receiver? It's a question I often hear, been hearing it for 15 years all the way back to the Andy Reid days when Todd Pinkston and James Thrash started at the positions.
The answer for this year may be an unusual one, but it also may be for the benefit of the passing game: There is no No. 1 receiver. There is no "star" here. Instead, the Eagles have deepened the talent pool with some strong drafting, a nimble free-agent signing and some X'ing and O'ing to get some "non-traditional" receivers into the mix.
The prediction: The receiving corps will be stronger, top to bottom, than it has been in years, and the Eagles will be a tough matchup for every defense on the schedule.
By using the draft in 2014 and 2015 to add Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor to the roster, the Eagles put themselves in position to build for the future. Matthews delivered in his rookie season with 67 catches, 872 yards and 8 touchdowns which, statistically, ranks as the best season in history for an Eagles rookie receiver. He was dynamite from the slot, and from the looks of it, that's where Matthews will get most of his snaps this season.
Matthews is bigger, better, faster and simply a more complete football player now. He has dominated in this Training Camp and he worked his way open on just about every route he ran in Sunday's preseason win over Indianapolis. Matthews is in for a huge season.
Huff has been among the most improved players on the team this summer. He's the most explosive of the receivers and he has greatly improved his consistency catching the ball and running routes. Head coach Chip Kelly uses the word "maturity" when he speaks of Huff, who got married in the offseason and has been diligent with his work ethic and approach in Year 2.
Agholor provided a taste of things to come with his 3-catch, 57-yard, one-touchdown outing against the Colts. The Eagles loved him in the draft because of his ability to run away from a defense with the ball in his hands. He did that on his touchdown catch and another time when he caught a quick out and eluded a defender to record a first down. The kid is quick and explosive. He's had a few drops in the summer, but so did Matthews in his inaugural summer. Agholor will improve.
Those kids are the present, yes, but they represent great things for the future as well. But three receivers aren't enough to make a strong receiving corps. Having two veterans who do a lot of little things well rounds out what I think is a really, really good group of receivers.
Riley Cooper isn't a "special" talent. He's not a star. He's a good receiver who catches the ball well, who is powerful after the catch, who blocks as well as any receiver in the league in the running game and who plays special teams extremely well. Cooper is a big body who is going to work in the rotation at wide receiver. That's all. Doesn't matter if he starts. He'll get his reps, just like all the other receivers.
Signing Miles Austin raised some eyebrows, but the Eagles were thrilled to get him. I remember asking internally what Austin brings to the table and here is what I was told: Great on routes, big-time hands, knows how to use his body and will help the young receivers master the nuances of the position.
Having Austin as a fifth receiver gives the Eagles the ability to bring their wideouts "over the boards," to use a hockey term. In this breakneck-speed offense, Kelly wants to exhaust defenses, and he can do that with a help of a wide receiver group that will come in waves, in rotation. The receivers will stay fresh as they run defensive backs ragged.
Add in the idea that tight end Zach Ertz is a multiple-threat weapon and Darren Sproles is going to be an "X" player and you get a sense of the plan. Let's take this a step beyond and suggest that a sixth wide receiver, Seyi Ajirotutu, can be used in matchup situations with his massive wingspan, but he's primarily the stopper on special teams.
That's the plan, and it's a good one. Kelly mentioned Jeff Maehl the other day, and he's still fighting for a job. There are a couple of young receivers - Quron Pratt and potentially Rasheed Bailey - who may have the ability to play in this league. It's going to be tough to make it here, as the Eagles have rebuilt the wide receiver corps, and the approach. They're going to spread the love in the passing game without having a true "No. 1" receiver and they're going to be better off for it.
By Dave Spadaro