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Eagles expecting “some really big things” from Greg Ward, an emerging leader in the wide receiver room

G-Ward SZN

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Not easy to do the whole “stock up, stock down” activity we’d be normally be doing during Philadelphia Eagles training camp with no real practices to this point. With that said, I feel pretty comfortable putting Greg Ward in the former category.

It’s been a good week for the 25-year-old pass catcher, who received effusive praise from the coaching staff.

First, this from Doug Pederson:

Q: WR Greg Ward got a lot of playing time for you guys at the end of last season because of injury. Now that everybody is healthy, you brought in some new receivers, how do you see his role changing? Do you still thinking he’s going to be a starting-type player for you guys?

DOUG PEDERSON: I’ve always liked Greg. He’s been on our practice roster. As a young player we activated him. He played last year, as you mentioned, did well. The one thing now as he goes into this season, he’s in that rotation, in that starting mix for us. It’s just a matter of him embracing every day, getting better. Being a former quarterback, he understands our offense. Being in our offense, he knows the concepts and the routes. He and Carson Wentz have a really good feel for one another. I think for him now it’s just a matter of continuing to get better each and every day and putting in the work. We expect some really big things from Greg. He can also be a leader. He can be a leader of that group. Him and DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, these guys, they can be leaders now and mentors to these young players.

Then, this from new wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead:

Q: Speaking of Greg Ward, I was wondering what you noticed on his film, especially the last four or five games when he became pretty much the go-to receiver for Carson, and how he can carry that into this season?

MOOREHEAD: Well, I think first and foremost, when you do what Greg did at the end of the year, your confidence goes up. A guy that’s been on the practice squad, you’re on the practice squad, you’re up, you’re down, you’re always thinking: ‘Am I good enough?’ Then you get in these situations, and you play well, you perform, makes a game-winning touchdown catch, that takes your confidence through the roof. That’s half the battle sometimes in the NFL, is just knowing you can do it, and the quarterback knowing you can do it. So, Greg’s in a good mental place right now. And so, as you look at this tape, he’s a very natural receiver. He’s got good spatial awareness, he understands where the zones are, he understands how to beat man coverage. Obviously, some of that can come from his quarterback play of understanding how things are supposed to look. But he’s a natural athlete, he’s a natural football player. I mean, I’ve known about Greg since he was in Tyler, Texas. This guy is a natural football player. And he was heck of a player at Houston and it’s not a shock to me he’s starting to come into his own. I think for me to get here at the time he’s kind of coming out into his own is good because I’ve allowed to kind of show him a few different details that I think he’ll be able to use this year, hopefully take his game to the next level. But Greg’s been great. He’s been one of the leaders of the room, if not THE leader of the room. And really so far he’s been nothing but exceeding my expectations.

It’s a bit funny to think of Ward as a leader in a receiver room that also contains a 33-year-old DeSean Jackson and a 30-year-old Alshon Jeffery. But the former college quarterback has clearly earned some respect for how he stepped up down the stretch in 2019.

Ward passed the eye test. He wasn’t an offensive dynamo, no, but he definitely offered competency and reliability. And that wasn’t to be taken for granted after watching Wentz’s receivers repeatedly fail him over and over.

From a numbers perspective, Ward’s 9.1 yards per reception mark wasn’t great. That figure ranked 93rd out of 102 qualified receivers. But one must consider the Eagles were running a very conservative “station-to-station” offense that involved methodically dinking-and-dunking their way down the field. That’s not all on Ward.

A look at some other stats paints a more encouraging picture about Ward’s outlook. For example: 19 of his 28 total receptions resulted in either a first down or touchdown. Talk about efficiency.

Ward finished 43rd out of 102 wide receivers graded by Pro Football Focus last season. He showed steady hands with only one drop, putting him 16th out of 102 receivers in drop rate. And that drop came on a play where a New York Giants defender may have slightly tipped the ball on an over-the-shoulder catch attempt. This is to say that it wasn’t some kind of routine catch to be made. Ward also displayed some juice with the ball in his hands with a 61st out of 102 finish in yards after catch per reception. He was tied with rookie sensation Terry McLaurin in that regard.

When it specifically came to his slot performance, Ward was 20th out of 50 receivers in yards per route run. He also finished 20th out of 50 in reception percentage by catching 22 of his 40 targets.

Yes, one must acknowledge that Ward put up this production against some bad NFC East defenses late in the season. But he also did it while essentially serving as the Eagles’ top wide receiver option. There’s reason to believe Ward can excel further when the other starters he’s playing with are DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor instead of Deontay Burnett and Robert Davis.

With the way the Eagles are talking about Ward, he seems bound to open the season as the team’s starting slot receiver. It’ll be exciting to see what he can do with this opportunity.