It would appear as if successfully drafting a college wide receiver and turning him into a productive member of your football team is pretty darn hard.
Every team is going to have its successes and failures in the draft, but over the years, the Eagles haven’t had much luck drafting and developing quality wideouts. General manager Howie Roseman desperately needs that to change this year, as it’s expected the team will spend either their first or second pick on a wideout, and will be returning much of the core that was among the worst group of pass catchers in the NFL.
They probably won’t get Cee Dee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs, unless the Eagles trade up or watch as one of the top three receivers fall lower than expected. Justin Jefferson, Denzel Mims, K.J. Hamler and others are all possibilities either late in the first round or on Day 2.
If the Eagles are going to get an impact wide receiver in this year’s draft, or even one who has a chance of playing in one Pro Bowl, they’re going to have to buck their recent trends. Here’s a look at their history of drafting wideouts over the last 30 years.
DeSean Jackson (2008) - There really has only been one wide receiver drafted by the Eagles in the last three decades that can truly be considered great, and that’s DeSean Jackson. He’s unquestionably the best wide receiver pick the Eagles have made outside of Harold Carmichael and Mike Quick, and he’s easily the best in the last three decades. Taken in the second round of the 2008 Draft, Jackson has caught 598 balls for 10,420 yards and 55 TDs in his career. He got off to a great start last year but didn’t really play at all after opening week, so hopefully he’ll get a chance to add to his totals in 2020.
THE REALLY GOOD
These are players who were very productive during their time in Philadelphia and who most would say were “good” draft picks.
Fred Barnett (1990) - Barnett was the second of three wide receivers taken in the 1990 draft, and he was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. He had a terrific career in Philadelphia, with two of his six seasons being 1000+ receiving seasons and one Pro Bowl selection before he left for the Dolphins as a free agent. Barnett’s best season came in 1994 when he hauled in 78 balls for 1127 yards and 5 TDs, however, his place on the team was lost after the 1995 season when his deep-ball style didn’t mesh with Ray Rhodes’ West Coast offense.
Calvin Williams (1990) - Williams was taken two round after Barnett, in the fifth round, and formed the second half of a new dynamic duo on the outside that allowed Randall Cunningham to have one of his best seasons in 1990. Williams never had a 1000+ yard season, but in his rookie year he caught nine touchdowns and in ‘93 hauled in 10. He was a solid No. 2 receiver and certainly played far and above his fifth round selection.
Jeremy Maclin (2009) - Maclin is a highly underrated player in Birds’ history. He was the Birds’ first round pick in ‘09 and played like a first rounder in Andy Reid’s spread-it-around offense. In his first four seasons he averaged 64.5 catches and 863 yards, didn’t play at all in 2013 due to an injury, then put up a career year in Chip Kelly’s offense in 2014, catching 85 passes for 1318 yards and 10 TDs. Somehow, he didn’t make the Pro Bowl that season.
Jordan Matthews (2014) - Matthews has been a bit of a punch line over the last couple seasons, but the former second round pick did have three good years with the Eagles, even if they weren’t as spectacular as some had hoped. From 2014-16 he averaged 75 catches, 890 yards and six touchdowns while playing for Kelly for two years and in Doug Pederson’s first season. He’s come back for two more stints with the team in 2018 and ‘19 in the middle of the season and didn’t produce much. But for a while there, he was productive, if unspectacular.
WELL, THEY WERE HERE FOR A WHILE
This next group of receivers were an eclectic mix. Some were early picks who stuck around for a long time but never met expectations while others were mid-to-lower round picks that hung around because they filled a certain role.
Na Brown (1999) - Brown was a 4th round pick who managed to see significant action in three seasons with the Birds. No, he wasn’t very good but he did catch a touchdown pass in the playoffs against the Bucs, so it wasn’t all bad.
Todd Pinkston (2000) - If Pinkston had been a mid-round pick I might have moved him up the list a little, but for a second round pick, his production level wasn’t quite up to snuff. His best season was 2002 when he caught a career high 60 passes for 798 yards and seven touchdowns, and he had plenty of big plays in his Philadelphia tenure as the team’s deep threat. However, the fact he weighed 120 pounds often allowed more physical cornerbacks to wipe him off the map completely.
Freddie Mitchell (2001) - Freddie Mitchell was a first round bust, but he was on the receiving end of 4th and 24 and in the 2004 divisional round against Minnesota caught two touchdowns and had a couple other big plays. A 498-yard season was the best he ever did, and he never elevated above being a No. 3 receiver, despite his Fred-Ex moniker.
Reggie Brown (2005) - Remember Reggie Brown? He was a disappointing second round selection who managed to have three half-decent years with the team, averaging 50 catches and 720 yards from 2005-2007, and spent five years with the team overall. The challenge: name one Reggie Brown play you remember.
Jason Avant (2006) - Avant was pretty good value for a fourth-round pick. He didn’t have great speed and never broke anything big, but he always had the best hands on the team (or at least that’s what the coaching staff would tell you) and could be counted on for a big third-down catch a couple times a game. Raise your hand if you realize he played eight seasons with the Eagles.
Riley Cooper (2010) - Riley Cooper wasn’t “good,” but he was also just a fifth round pick and caught three of Nick Foles’ seven touchdowns against the Raiders in 2013. Riley started 54 games for the Eagles and played six seasons in Philly, including two playoff games. Against New Orleans in 2013 he caught six for 68 and a touchdown in their wild card match-up, but also probably cost the Eagles the game when he did this.
Doesn't get any worse than this: pic.twitter.com/8pUYkHQ4PF— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) May 5, 2017
Oh, and the racist slur. Can’t forget the racist slur.
Nelson Agholor (2015) - I know Agholor didn’t end his time in Philadelphia on a high note and, honestly, he had one good season in five. But in that one season he was an instrumental part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl season. So yes, he was a first round pick that didn’t live up to the hype, and yes, he dropped a lot of babies last year. But he was productive at times and unbelievably clutch in Super Bowl 52. A complicated tenure with the Birds to be sure.
COVER YOUR EYES
Most of these guys were Day 2 selections and none of them were what we thought they could/should be.
Mike Bellamy (1990) - The Eagles took Bellamy in the second round of the ‘90 draft, ahead of Barnett and Williams. I guess the other two took the heat off the Bellamy pick, but this dude was awful.
Victor Bailey (1993) - A second round pick who caught 61 balls for 856 yards in two seasons with the Eagles. Then, gone from the league and our lives forever.
Chris T. Jones (1995) - Superstar name from a superstar school (University of Miami) with a surprisingly good season in year No. 2 when he caught 70 balls for 859 yards and five TDs. Unfortunately, knee injuries derailed his career, resulting in just four more games after that before he had to call it a career. Injuries, man.
Billy McMullen (2003) - A third round pick, his best season was in 2005 when he had 268 receiving yards. I totally forgot he existed.
Josh Huff (2014) - Huff, taken in the third round as well, was supposed to be Chip Kelly’s do-everything guy, a Swiss-army knife type receiver who could be deployed in all types of situations. But with just 48 catches, 482 yards and four touchdowns in parts of three seasons with Philadelphia, Huff was a gigantic miss.
Mack Hollins (2017) - Hollins was a fourth-rounder, so expectations weren’t that he was going to be a superstar, but to get absolutely nothing out of the guy after what seemed to be a promising rookie campaign was deeply disappointing.
Yeah, I forgot half these guys existed. They were mostly mid-to-late round guys, the types of players that are littered in the graveyards of other teams’ drafts as well.
Jeff Sydner (1992) - A 6th-round pick who caught three career balls. I’ll bet Jeff can name where all three happened.
Phillip Riley (1996) - Another 6th-rounder who played in one game, for the Jets, in ‘96. No stats.
Antwuan Wyatt (1997) - Drafted in the 6th round also, he played one game for the Eagles, returned two punts for -2 yards and returned two kickoffs for 50 yards.
Troy Smith (1999) - This section is full of 6th-round selections. Smith got in one game in his rookie season, had one catch for 14 yards and was never heard from again. It’s incredible to think how many former NFL players there are out there with this same exact story.
Gari Scott (2000) - A 4th-rounder, Scott actually got into three games in his rookie season and caught two balls for 26 yards. Not great.
Freddie Milons (2002) - Milons was a 5th-round pick who never played a game in the NFL.
Brandon Gibson (2009) - Another 6th-round pick, Gibson played one game for the Eagles and didn’t make a catch. He was traded to the Rams in October of his rookie season for linebacker Will Witherspoon and a 5th round pick who later turned out to be forgettable defensive end Rickey Sapp, the same round Riley Cooper was selected. Gibson would go on to play four years for the Rams and two seasons with Dolphines and pile up 42 games as a starter, averaging 40 catches a season and 473 yards.
Marvin McNutt (2012) - Hey, what do you know, another 6th-round pick! McNutt played five NFL games as a special teams man, registering two tackles his rookie season.
DUNNO YET, BUT NOT LOOKIN’ GOOD
Shelton Gibson (2017) - Gibson didn’t really fit into any of the other categories and is technically still around, although he hasn’t done anything since he was drafted in the 5th round a couple years ago. He’s probably not going to be a productive member of the Eagles at any point, but I guess as long as he’s still on the offseason roster, there’s still a chance.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside (2019) - Last year’s second round pick is a huge question mark coming into 2020. Is he a lost cause? Was he hurt last year? Will this be a total waste of a second round pick like Mike Bellamy or Victor Bailey? His rookie season was so bad it’s hard to see how he can overcome it, but the Eagles aren’t giving up on him yet, and I suppose we shouldn’t either.
At the end of the day, the Eagles have had a little bit of success drafting wide receivers, but most of it happened a long time ago. This current regime has yet to bring a consistently productive, All-Pro caliber wideout to the team, but hopefully this year’s wideout class is so good the Eagles will be more fortunate than in seasons past.