It’s the season of training camp hype. Quez Watkins is about to make Tyreek Hill look like Todd Pinkston. Jordan Mailata will make Walter Jones look like Danny Watkins. The Eagles defense may give up zero touchdowns all season.
I’m hanging on every word of every beat writer live-tweeting the Eagles-Patriots joint practices. As we get amped for the regular season opener that’s less than a month away, I’ll answer this week’s round of questions...
@GoodhartJustin: With the emergence this preseason (and hopeful health) of Quez Watkins, where does someone like Travis Fulgham fit into the fold?
@MillsWrld: With the emergence of Quez, does Fulgham get put to WR4, and then have Smith Quez and Reag be the starting WRs?
These two questions are basically the same, so I’ll throw them together.
Travis Fulgham looked like he was on the way to becoming the next great Eagles folk hero in 2020. During a five-game stretch, he had 29 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns. He was statistically the best wideout in football from Week 4 through Week 8.
He then dropped off the face of the earth.
There’s been talk of Fulgham falling out of favor with the Eagles’ former coaching staff because of his practice habits following his hot streak. With the Doug Pederson era in the past, it was reasonable to assume that a new head coach with a strong history of working with wide receivers like Nick Sirianni could unlock that version of Fulgham we briefly saw.
It just hasn’t happened.
I don’t think Travis Fulgham has had the camp the Eagles would’ve liked to see from him. Too many drops/tough catches not made. Hasn’t been awful but hasn’t really shined.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) August 17, 2021
Coming into this summer, it seemed like DeVonta Smith as the Z receiver and Fulgham as the outside X wideout with Jalen Reagor now in the slot was a perfect fit for their skillsets. The Eagles have wanted Fulgham to take charge and win a starting receiver job. He simply hasn’t done so.
What make matters worse for Fulgham is the emergence of Watkins, who’s shined in training camp, the preseason and in joint practices. It’s going to be tough to keep Watkins, who’s nearly three years younger than Fulgham, off the field. He deserves to get real starter-level snaps in the regular season given the way he’s balled out this summer.
Where does Fulgham fit in the rotation if Watkins ends up being a starter? He’s not the burner that Watkins is, he’s not the “do everything” wideout that Smith is and he’s not that (at least, in theory) YAC guy that Reagor is.
I wouldn’t start him at this point. How can they?
The 2020 season was the biggest disaster in my time as an Eagles fan. I don’t want it all to be for naught though. We saw glimpses of the electric talent Jalen Hurts possesses and there’s hope he can turn into something special this season. I don’t want Fulgham’s blip on the NFL radar to merely be a flash in the pan, but it’s hard to be confident about his 2021 prospects right now.
@Devin_luke7: If Smith can’t stay healthy do you think we will sign a veteran WR?
How do we define “can’t stay healthy” here? He’s participated in team drills during joint practices with New England. I wouldn’t be shocked if he played in the preseason. Building off the above answer about Fulgham, I wouldn’t be opposed to bringing in a veteran outside receiver, but who is actually available?
Dez Bryant? Marqise Lee? I’d rather bank on Fulgham somehow playing like 2020 Fulgham despite how disappointing he’s been in camp. The options just aren’t there.
@ericlachman1: Compare/contrast this team to the RG3 led 2012 WFT?
I can’t imagine Hurts will lead the NFL in yards per attempt the way Robert Griffin III did as a rookie in 2012 (8.1), but I get where your head’s at.
Working with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, RG3 had one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever, leading Washington to a 10-6 record and a division win. He was injured in his playoff debut and was never the same after. Washington was sixth in Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA and finished 16th in Defensive DVOA that season.
That doesn’t feel like the identity of this Eagles team right now. If anything, there’s a better chance of the defense being a top-six unit with the offense coming out around league average than vice versa.
The way the teams may be most similar is the run game. Washington finished tops in the NFL with 2,709 yards on the ground. It was an efficient attack too, as they finished second in yards per rush at 5.2. RG3’s dynamic athletic talents were on display, as he picked up 815 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs. Undrafted rookie running back Alfred Morris exploded, going for 1,613 yards and 13 scores.
Miles Sanders’s struggles as a receiver in 2020 and in this summer’s training camp are concerning, but he looks better than ever as a rusher. He’s had two 800-yard-plus rushing seasons. Can he put it all together and top 1,000 or even approach 1,200? Jordan Howard, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell can pump up that total too. I wrote last month about the way the Eagles can utilize 21 personnel with two running backs. That would only further the Birds’ rushing prowess.
The crux of the comparison, obviously, comes down to RG3 and Hurts. Hurts won’t match RG3 in terms of passing efficiency, so it comes down to the running game.
In his four starts in 2020, Hurts averaged 68 rushing yards per game. Extrapolated over a 17-game season, he’d be on pace for 1,156 rushing yards. That may seem like a wild total, but Lamar Jackson topped 1,000 yards each of the last two years. Hurts can get close to that this season.
@Mobbin2Mars: More likely Hurts 4000yrds and 30 TDs or Smitty 1000 yards and 6 TDs?
If we’re talking total yards and total touchdowns, I’d go Hurts. If we’re simply doing passing numbers, that’s probably out of reach for Hurts in his first full season as a starter.
Not only is Smith more likely to hit those benchmarks, I legit think he’s going to do it. Justin Jefferson had 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020 when he finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.
What’s stopping DeVonta from doing that? BANK ON IT!
@3_AV_Crue: Better nicknames than Smitty?
The Eagles called DeVonta Smith “Smitty” in a tweet on Monday:
Hurts then called him “Smitty” when speaking with reporters:
#Eagles QB Jalen Hurts on WR DeVonta Smith (knee), who practiced in pads for the first time since July 31: “Smitty gon’ be Smitty. He’ll be just fine.”— Josh Tolentino (@JCTSports) August 16, 2021
I can’t say I’m a fan. If Hurts is into it and Smith himself likes it though, go for it. Nicknames do have to be natural after all.
I can’t shake the feeling that “Smitty” sounds like a character Sean William Scott would play in an early 2000s comedy. “Smitty” is also the dude you were friends with in high school but kinda hated at the same time and you dread running into him at the local bar every Thanksgiving Eve.
I know Kevin Durant has been given the “Slim Reaper” name, but he hated it when the name was popularized. It doesn’t matter if he’s owned it now. He lost his chance at an incredible nickname. Smith has been frequently called “Slim Reaper” and it’s just perfect. Stay with that.