When you woke up on Thursday, the Eagles had the worst group of wide receivers in the league. Before you sat down for dinner, they had a solid one. Alshon Jeffery is a clear cut #1 receiver, and Torrey Smith should be a legitimate every down deep threat. The trickle down effect of these signings should give Jordan Matthews more space to operate in the slot, and also help out Zach Ertz.
It will take some time for Carson Wentz and his new receivers to really gel, but the Eagles’ passing offense won’t be chained to the floor by talent like it was in 2016. But they can’t think their work is done. They need to look no further than last season to see how quickly plans go awry.
The Eagles were right to sit out 2016’s free agency wide receiver traveling carnival carousel, loosely bolted together with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu getting a combined $34 million guaranteed for second-tier receiver production on their better days. The decision to buy cheaply in bulk with Rueben Randle, Chris Givens, T.J. Graham, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner and Bryce Treggs was fine in theory. If just one worked out, whether it be the deep threat of Givens, Graham or Treggs, the size of Green-Beckham or Randle, or Paul Turner’s hands, then Carson Wentz would have someone useful to throw to besides Matthews, Ertz and Darren Sproles. Any progress by Nelson Agholor or Josh Huff would be an additional boost. But of course none of it worked out, and as the season progressed the lack of depth only made matters worse.
And make no mistake, both Jeffery and Smith were available to the Eagles in part because of their unreliability. Jeffery is one failed test away from a ten game suspension, which as Lane Johnson can attest to can happen even when taking “approved” supplements. After averaging 53 receptions a season in Baltimore, Smith totaled 53 receptions in his two years in San Francisco. He says he still has his wheels, and the 49ers dreadful QB situation certainly shoulders much blame for his lack of production, but even Jeremy Kerley was able to catch 64 passes in 2016 to Smith’s 20.
And there’s always the threat of injuries in football. Jeffery and Smith have good injury histories with just one each, but then Jordan Matthews had a stellar one: he went six straight years in college and pros without missing a game prior to 2016. Then he missed two and hobbled through three more, making a bad situation even worse.
The Eagles should, and at this point are nearly forced to, go heavy in the draft on defense. They should walk away with two corners in a tremendously deep class, and depth at linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle is needed. But they need to spend a pick on a wide receiver or run the risk of repeating their past mistakes. After taking Lane Johnson 4th overall in 2013, the Eagles went 21 picks before drafting another offensive lineman, filling the gaps with veterans, which they’re still doing. Bypassing wide receiver in the draft would see them go at least 21 picks (assuming they make the 8 draft picks they are scheduled to make) without taking a wide receiver since Nelson Agholor. With Jeffery, Smith and Matthews not guaranteed to be on the roster in 2018, and Agholor and Green-Beckham in need of a total career turnaround to stay on even past August, they could be right back to square one this time next year.
They don’t need to draft one in the 1st round, though the depth at cornerback means they could afford to take a receiver at 14 and still get a good a corner prospect in the 2nd. There’s enough solid prospects in the draft in the 2nd through 4th rounds to give the Eagles depth.
On Friday, Joe Douglas said “You don't want to have three receivers that do exactly the same thing… I think it's very important that each of these guys bring in their own individual skill set.” He’s right, because unless you can somehow get a lineup of three All-Pro receivers, you’re going to have a group of imperfect pass catchers who don’t compensate for the other’s deficiencies.
Assuming Torrey Smith is much closer to the player he was in Baltimore than the player he was in San Francisco, it just takes one hamstring pull for the defenses to sit on everyone but Alshon Jeffery. It takes one rolled ankle or one failed test for Carson Wentz to lose the huge red zone target of Jeffery. Having say, the speed of a guy like Taywan Taylor or the jump ball abilities of someone like Isaiah Ford, just to name a couple, could help the Eagles in 2017 and beyond.
Three’s company, but two’s a crowd the Eagles could use.