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Position review: wide receiver


NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our end of season position review with wide receivers. Let’s rip the band-aid off quickly, it’ll sting less.

Jordan Matthews

Jordan Matthews went into the season as the Eagles best wide receiver, which wasn’t saying much, and he ended as the Eagles best wide receiver, which also wasn’t saying much. Because Matthews had the worst season of his career in 2016. After back to back 8 touchdown seasons, he had just 3. In 2014 and 2015 he had multiple 100 yard receiving games, in 2016 he had just one. He had two games of less than 20 yards receiving in both 2014 and 2015, in 2016 he had three. His statistical regression wasn’t for lack of opportunity, he had a career high in targets per game. And for the first time in his career he missed time with injury.

It wasn’t just the stats. Matthews continued to struggle with drops and wasn’t able to establish himself as a legitimate outside receiver.

He did however, come up with a pretty good touchdown celebration with Carson Wentz.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Eligible for a new contract, there’s a good chance the Eagles will give him a new one this spring. They shouldn’t. His value won’t dramatically increase in 2017, as a possession receiver who operates best from the slot, there won’t be high demand for him.

Nelson Agholor

In 2015 Nelson Agholor was one of the worst starting wide receivers in the league. In 2016, he was no better. Despite playing more snaps than any Eagles WR he was just the third most targeted WR. His season high in receiving yards was 57, set on opening day. His entire season can be summed up with he was 20 months removed from being the 20th overall pick in the draft and was a healthy scratch. There’s nothing positive to say about his career thus far, he’s effectively created a new role: the shutdown wide receiver. Over the past two seasons, only Corey Brown of the Panthers has started at least 8 games a year and caught fewer passes than Agholor. Barely. Brown has 58 receptions for 723 yards and 5 TDs the past two years, Agholor has 59 receptions for 648 yards and 3 TDs. Brown was an undrafted free agent, Agholor a first round pick.

And he’s still under investigation for his incident at a strip club at the end of the preseason.

Verdict: Thumbs down. If we were doing star ratings, I would paraphrase Roger Ebert’s review of Human Centipede:

I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine.

The Eagles should move on from Agholor this offseason. It would take incredible improvement for him to become a useful player in 2017. In two seasons he has just 59 receptions, in a ten year period from 2005 to 2014, only seven WRs have started at least 16 games (Agholor has started 26) in their first two years and caught less than 60 passes: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Arrelious Benn, Stephen Hill, Brandon Jones, T.J. Graham and Keary Colbert. Heyward-Bey is the best of the lot, and he’s caught 59 passes in three years in Pittsburgh.

Yes, it costs more to cut than keep Agholor in 2017, but that is only when you view the salary cap in a vacuum. Salary cap space rolls over, it is a hard yet fluid cap. Whether he is released this offseason or next, Agholor will cost the Eagles $4.9M in cap space. They won’t save a penny on Agholor over a two year period by keeping him for 2016, his cap hit is a sunk cost. Nelson Agholor’s roster spot would be more beneficial to the team and to Carson Wentz’s development if it was used on someone else.

Dorial Green-Beckham

As bad as Agholor’s first year was, at least he wasn’t traded by a three win team for a backup offensive lineman. Dorial Green-Beckham was, and result never came close to the high upside the trade was seen as having. He started one more game than Dennis Kelly. His most productive span of the season was a five game stretch where he caught 16 passes for 191 yards and 1 touchdown. In two of those games, he never caught a pass. In his rookie season in Tennessee he was exactly as advertised in the draft: physically gifted but raw, in his second season in Philadelphia he rarely showed his physical gifts.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Green-Beckham at least has a moderately productive rookie season to fall back on, a case can be made that can bounce back from a regressed 2016. He’s worth a roster spot in training camp, but the Eagles shouldn’t hesitate to move on in the fall if he doesn’t improve.

Paul Turner

The 2016 Na Brown Award Winner had a Na Brown type season by rarely playing. Perhaps he should have played more, but as strictly a slot receiver on a team who’s only starting caliber receiver having a lock on the slot, there wasn’t much opportunity and probably won’t be next year either. But when he played, he made an impact. This is an extremely small sample to the point where the following statistic is basically meaningless, but 6 of his 9 catches gained a first down. Nice.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a place in the league for guys who can move the chains and not much else, and while it’s extremely early to have any kind of confidence, Turner has at least earned a spot in training camp.

One area of concern: despite spending the entire season with the Eagles on the practice squad and then the active roster, he was almost never used on special teams, getting just 9 snaps. That may not be his fault though. No WR that finished the season with the Eagles got more than Nelson Agholor’s 20 special teams snaps, perhaps the coaching staff felt the best use of their WRs practice time was extra positional drills rather than special teams practice. Maybe that will change this year, and if so that is an area to watch for Turner and every other WR competing for a roster spot.

Bryce Treggs

In a way, Treggs’ season was all you needed to know about how bad the Eagles wide receivers were in 2016: they ended the season giving meaningful playing time to two undrafted wide receivers who combined for 12 catches all year. After spending the first half of the season recovering from injury, Treggs made an immediate impact in his debut with a 58 yard reception and a nice 69 yard performance. But he caught just one pass the rest of the year, and in December played just 8 snaps.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Treggs has speed to be respected, but wasn’t able to do anything with it after his debut. He’s worth a spot in training camp, but the competition for a roster spot should get harder. If he can make a leap and become a useful 4th/5th WR deep threat, that’s a pretty good find for an undrafted free agent off the waiver wire.

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