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Eagles have more questions than answers at wide receiver

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Eagles training camp position preview: Wide receiver.

Baltimore Ravens v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles training camp is right around the corner ... maybe? Players are currently scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex later this month. 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 receiver position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back.

THE PLAYERS

DESEAN JACKSON

BGN dubbed Jackson as “the most important Eagle not named Carson Wentz” heading into 2019. I think it’s safe to say that proclamation was right. Philly’s plodding offense sorely lacked his explosive ability when he essentially went down for the season after Week 1.

The Eagles are counting on Jackson to be an important piece again in 2020. There’s reason to be optimistic about his outlook when you consider his strong connection with Carson Wentz. The duo looked great in offseason practices and that chemistry carried over into Week 1 when Jackson was targeted nine times for eight receptions, 154 yards, and two touchdowns. John Clark has shared some encouraging offseason tweets about Jackson:

On the other hand, one still must wonder about Jackson’s durability. He’s played in just 63% of possible games over the past five seasons. Jackson is coming off core muscle surgery and he turns 34 this year. He’s likely not going to be available for all 16 games, which he’s only ever done twice and not since 2013.

Unlike last year, Howie Roseman made an effort to add some speed insurance behind Jackson this offseason. But those backup plans might not amount to much. The reality is the Eagles still need Jackson to stay relatively healthy.

They also need him to stay out of further trouble off the field. The Eagles penalized Jackson for the anti-Semitic sentiment he shared on Instagram. They’re counting on him to back up his apologies with meaningful action that demonstrates genuine growth and remorse. Jackson can’t afford another misstep.

The feeling here is that Jackson can still be a very valuable contributor to the Eagles’ offense. He has a real strong connection with Wentz and everyone will be reminded about that when the two are connecting on deep bomb touchdowns. Jackson’s field-stretching presence should also open things up for underneath passing game options like Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.

The Eagles just need Jackson to avoid getting seriously hurt. If he can’t remain upright, well, the Eagles could be in trouble again.

ALSHON JEFFERY

Early in the offseason, there was buzz that the Eagles were going to either trade or cut Jeffery. And, yet, here he is, still on the roster.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagles are counting on Jeffery to be a big contributor in 2020. As recently as May 31, the Inquirer wrote that they “still can’t imagine [Jeffery] playing in midnight green again.” My BGN Radio co-host Jimmy Kempski took the under on 0.5 snaps played by Jeffery for the Eagles this upcoming season.

Even if Jeffery remains on the team, his availability is in question. Jeffery suffered a Lisfranc injury in mid-December last year. While some have suggested he could be ready for September, others remain skeptical. A doctor I talked to explained why he’s bearish on Jeffery’s 2020 outlook. One must also consider Jalen Mills took a full 12 months to recover from a foot injury similar to the one Jeffery suffered. There’s a real chance Jeffery begins the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which would cause him to miss six games at least.

And even if Jeffery does get healthy enough to play, just how effective can he be? He looked pretty slow last year as he posted a career low 11.4 yards per reception mark. What’s the 30-year-old going to look like as he comes off a major injury? And can the Eagles trust him to not anonymously bash the team’s starting quarterback for the third season in a row?

It’d be great if Jeffery could get back to being an effective contributor. The Eagles need an X receiver and he could fill that role. It’s just hard to count on it happening.

JALEN REAGOR

Reagor is the only significant investment the Eagles made at the receiver position this offseason. As such, there’s pressure on him to make an immediate impact.

There’s reason to believe Reagor has legitimate star potential. The TCU product is a freak athlete who boasts big play ability. Reagor also really stands to benefit from improved quarterback play. It’s entirely possible he makes the Eagles look smart for taking him at No. 21.

It’s also possible that the Reagor pick won’t pay immediate dividends. Consider this historical perspective via The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia:

Since 2015, 39 wide receivers have been selected in the first or second round. On average, those players have produced 459 receiving yards as rookies.

Just three of the 39 (7.7 percent) — Michael Thomas, Amari Cooper and A.J. Brown — produced as an average No. 1 wide receiver. Ten of 39 (25.6 percent) produced as an average No. 2 wide receiver.

This is not fancy math or a complex statistical model, but hopefully it gets the point across: It’s a lot harder to find a productive No. 1 or No. 2 wide receiver who contributes immediately than most people think. Teams that are counting on finding a starting wide receiver in the draft are taking a big gamble.

And none of those receivers had to deal with an offseason shortened by a pandemic.

Doug Pederson said the Eagles won’t be cross-training Reagor as much as they’ll be having him learn from Jackson at the Z receiver role. It remains to be seen how quickly Reagor will pick up the offense and where exactly he’ll be lining up as the season progresses.

Maybe Reagor will look like he belongs from the jump. That’d be great! Or maybe his college drop issues resurface as he struggles to contribute. Hard to know exactly what to expect from the 21-year-old rookie.

JJ ARCEGA-WHITESIDE

Let’s not sugarcoat it: JJAW’s rookie season was very discouraging. He could’ve stood to benefit from having a full offseason in an NFL program this year but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Perhaps JJAW can benefit from being healthier and not having his head swimming like it admittedly was in 2019. But perhaps JJAW just isn’t very good. He’s certainly not scaring anyone with his speed and the jump ball prowess he showed off in college has yet to translate to the NFL.

With Jeffery on the mend, it’s not impossible the Eagles could actually trot out JJAW as their starting X receiver. That’s the role they’ve groomed him for. But, man, it’s really hard to feel inspired about the guy who logged just 10 receptions for 169 yards and one touchdown in 486 snaps played (42% of the team’s total) last year.

GREG WARD

Ward certainly did not throw away his shot when the Eagles called him up from the practice squad last season. He ended up being the team’s top wide receiver down the stretch.

But what’s next for Ward? Is he the starting slot receiver? Does he get rotational playing time?

It’s not like the Eagles must get the ball into the hands of a player who logged 9.1 yards per reception in 2019. But there’s something to be said for Ward’s competence when there’s so much uncertainty elsewhere at this position.

MARQUISE GOODWIN

The Eagles acquired Goodwin for the very low cost of moving down 20 spots late in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Eagles and Goodwin also reportedly agreed on a one-year contract restructure worth $1.35 million in 2020.

Clearly, expectations for Goodwin should be kept low. This is ultimately a guy who’s averaged 31 yards per game over seven seasons. And injuries have caused this 29-year-old to miss 15 games during the past two years.

Goodwin is a few years removed from logging 56 receptions for 962 yards in 2017. It’s not even hyperbole to say the former Olympic athlete is one of the fastest people in the world considering his 4.27 second 40-yard dash speed.

Goodwin could be worth keeping around as insurance for Jackson getting hurt and/or Reagor not being ready to make immediate impact. The coaching staff could feel especially comfortable leaning on his veteran experience due to the irregular offseason.

JOHN HIGHTOWER

Hightower is on the older side for a rookie at 24 years old. This maturity could work in the 2020 fifth-round pick’s favor as he tries to push for a roster spot. The feeling here is that Hightower isn’t likely to see much offensive playing time but he could be the team’s primary kick returner since he has experience in that area.

QUEZ WATKINS

Some feel the Eagles got a steal by landing Watkins in the sixth round. Maybe that’s true but he’s not even a lock to make the roster. I’m currently projecting the Eagles to keep Watkins around on the practice squad. His speed is intriguing, for sure, but the 21-year-old needs to add some strength and polish. Watkins isn’t bound to make much of an impact as a rookie.

DEONTAY BURNETT

Burnett is hardly the fastest guy on the team but he does boast good hands and body control. I was intrigued by what we saw out of Burnett in a very small sample size last year. It’s too bad he’s missing a full offseason to stand out further. The odds are against Burnett making the roster but he could be worth keeping around on the practice squad. He’s only 22.

ROBERT DAVIS

Big Bob Davis didn’t do a whole lot (see: one reception for six yards) with the two starts he logged last season. The 25-year-old is probably competing for a practice squad spot at best.

SHELTON GIBSON

This is probably going to be Gibson’s last offseason spent with the Eagles. The 2017 fifth-round pick is fighting an uphill battle with what could be his last shot.

MARCUS GREEN

The Eagles signed Green to their practice squad early during the 2019 season. He’s a long shot.

MANASSEH BAILEY

Bailey is an undrafted rookie free agent converted linebacker (!) who played football at Division I FCS Morgan State. If NFL teams only bring 80ish players to camp instead of 90, as has been rumored, Bailey could easily be cut.

KHALIL TATE

In the summer of 2018, Tate was a preseason Heisman candidate. In the summer of 2020, Tate is an undrafted rookie free agent quarterback trying to transition to receiver. The odds are stacked against the Arizona alumnus but perhaps with enough patience and development Tate can similarly follow Ward’s path.

HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?

Great question. I don’t know!

Jackson is a starter barring injury or further punishment. I’m expecting Jeffery to at least miss six games while starting out on PUP. Maybe Ward starts in the slot with JJAW as the X? But then how does Reagor fit in? The Eagles certainly aren’t going to limit their 2020 first-round pick to the bench, right? Does the veteran Goodwin sneak into the rotation somehow? Can one of the Day 3 rookies make an unexpected impact?

As stated in the headline, the Eagles have more questions than answers here. It would’ve been nice to have a fuller offseason to help further sort through this position. Camp will be important.

WHO COULD BE A SURPRISE CUT?

I still wouldn’t rule out Jeffery not being on the team.

I don’t think the Eagles will give up on JJAW after just one year.

I guess Ward could get left off if a bunch of other guys really impressed?

Hightower or Watkins getting cut shouldn’t qualify as a surprise as much as it would just be noteworthy.

Poll

On a scale of 1-5, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ wide receiver position? (5 being the most.)

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    5
    (62 votes)
  • 20%
    4
    (277 votes)
  • 50%
    3
    (685 votes)
  • 20%
    2
    (281 votes)
  • 4%
    1
    (59 votes)
1364 votes total Vote Now