Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2017 is almost here. The first practice starts on July 24. The Eagles' entire training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the wide receivers.
Last year, the Eagles had a wide receiving corpse. This year, the Eagles have an actual NFL wide receiving corps.
If that bad joke didn’t cause you to click out of this article, maybe reminding you of last year’s group of wide receivers will. It was truly dreadful. Just look at this snaps breakdown:
Nelson Agholor - 77.9%
Jordan Matthews - 74.5%
Dorial Green-Beckham - 56.7%
Paul Turner - 13.6%
Josh Huff - 11.8%
Bryce Treggs - 11.1%
Only two of the above receivers (at most) will even be on the roster in 2017. DGB, who was arguably the team’s second best receiver last year, didn’t even make it to training camp this offseason.
But enough about last year. Let’s look ahead to the 2017 picture.
Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Marcus Johnson, Paul Turner, Bryce Treggs, David Watford, Greg Ward
Signing Jeffery was such an awesome, unexpected move for the Eagles. They badly needed receiver help and they ended up getting the best one on the market. The Eagles finally have a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver once again.
There are some obvious concerns with Jeffery. He’s dealt with a number of soft tissue injuries over his career that have either kept him out of games entirely or hampered his ability to be fully effective while suiting up. Jeffery is also one PEDs suspension away from missing 10 games, just like Lane Johnson did last season.
So far, those issues haven’t come up. Jeffery made it through spring practices with a clean bill of health. Even better, he was really impressive on the field. He made tough, contested catches look easy. He made big plays down the field. He didn’t drop a single catchable pass. It was clear he’s the team’s best wide receiver, by far.
Jeffery is going to be motivated to have a big season after signing a one-year deal with Philadelphia. He should prove to be a great weapon for Carson Wentz, who isn’t shy to throw the ball in tight windows. Jeffery’s ability to win jump balls should help him earn the big contract he desires. This year could mark the beginning of a great new quarterback-receiver duo in the NFL.
It’s easy to forget how good of a receiver Smith once was after two really bad years with the 49ers. And despite those struggles, Smith still ranks second in career yards per reception among active NFL players (DeSean Jackson is first). It’s possible Smith, who turned 28 in January, never produces the numbers he did earlier in his career when he was with the Ravens. The Eagles only gave him $500,000 guaranteed for a reason. With that said, Smith did look good in spring practices. At the very least, he’s proven to be a capable NFL receiver, which figures to be a significant upgrade over last year’s group of pass catchers.
There’s a thought Matthews could be more effective this season now that he’s not being counted upon as a No. 1 receiver. Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his efficiency could go up. But his overall volume is bound to go down with more receiving options available for Wentz.
It’s possible the Eagles could trade Matthews before the season starts. Philadelphia was reportedly open to offers for him earlier this offseason. Matthews is going to be a free agent after this season and the Eagles might not be able to pay him what he wants. Assuming Matthews doesn’t get traded, he figures to be a nice slot receiver who has a good chemistry with Wentz.
Four letters accurately describe Agholor’s career to this point: B-u-s-t. To say he’s “struggled” would be putting it lightly. He’s literally been one of the league’s worst wide receivers and it was fair to question if he even belonged in the NFL. This year is Agholor’s last shot to prove something to the Eagles. The good news for him is he’s off to an encouraging start. Agholor was surprisingly competent in spring practices. He still has a lot to prove, so let’s not assume his career is revived just yet. Also remember that his playing time will decrease given the presence of Jeffery and Smith.
Shortly after the Eagles drafted Mack Hollins in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Mike Mayock proclaimed him to be the best special teams player in this class. That kind of praise drew the ire of some Eagles fans: “A special teams guy in the fourth round?!” But Hollins projects to be more than a ST guy. He flashed reliable hands in OTAs and minicamp. He also an intriguing combination of size/speed that could allow him to succeed as a big play guy.
Gibson is in danger of not making the team despite being drafted in the fifth round this year. The rookie from West Virginia struggled to catch the ball during individual drills, which is very uncommon and not a good sign. Gibson could really benefit from having a strong summer in order to turn things around. His raw speed could make him too valuable for the Eagles to cut.
The Eagles were secretly high on Johnson, who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, last year. The problem is he got hurt in training camp. Johnson is healthy now and he’ll have a chance to make the bottom of the roster if he can pick up where he left off in the spring. Proving he can contribute on special teams would help, too.
Last year’s receiving corps was so bad that people (myself included) desperately wanted to see Turner get a shot on the roster. “At least he can catch!” While Turner is clearly still slated for a Hall of Fame career, he’ll have a tough time making the final roster this year. Maybe practice squad again.
Treggs didn’t have a bad spring. He flashed some speed last year but was mostly invisible after that. Again, maybe a practice squad guy.
Watford and Ward are both former college quarterbacks. Watford struggled in spring practices. Ward was probably better than him, though his body looks so skinny and not ready to regularly take NFL hits.
How will it play out?
Jeffery and Smith are the starters on the outside. Matthews is the slot guy. Agholor is the slot guy if Matthews gets traded. If JMatt stays, Agholor will have some kind of rotational role on offense. He could split playing time with Smith. Or he could be glued to the bench if he continues to be terrible. Hollins will make the roster and be active on game day due to his special teams value. Hollins might also have a small role on offense.
That’s five receivers right there. Do the Eagles keep a sixth? If so, it could come down to Gibson versus Johnson. Note that the sixth receiver likely wouldn’t be active on game day.
Who could be a surprise cut?
Gibson qualifies for this category. The Eagles might be able to keep him on the practice squad. That might be ambitious. It won’t seem so impossible if he continues to really struggle. Teams would have to free up a roster spot for him if they wanted to poach him on waivers.
The Eagles trading Matthews would be a surprise for some, but it shouldn’t be.