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Young Eagles receivers need to step up with DeVonta Smith injured

Who can rise to the occasion?

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I’m sure I’m not the only one who had pain in the pit of their stomach when news broke that DeVonta Smith has an MCL sprain and will be missing time. He’s been given the “week to week” designation:

Eagles fans have seen players like Jalen Mills fall off the face of the Earth when getting billed with a “week-to-week” injury, though ESPN’s Adam Schefter says that it may only be a two or three week injury. Your mileage may vary on how you take this injury depending on what level of a crazed, obsessive, Negadelphian you are. Me? I’m not feeling great!

Smith is dealing with the durability issues that were raised during this year’s pre-draft process and while all Eagles fans are hoping he returns to the field soon, the show still goes on with Smith out.

Jalen Hurts, whose development felt so closely intertwined with Smith’s arrival in Philly, could be in a position Carson Wentz often found himself in if Smith misses real time: a lack of a supporting cast.

Yes, Greg Ward Jr. is still here, and has been reliable in the past. A player routinely at the bottom of the league in yards per route run, however, isn’t going to get it done. A newcomer must emerge.

Travis Fulgham has 38 career catches. Jalen Reagor has 31. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has 14. John Hightower has 10. Quez Watkins has seven.

The experience isn’t there and none of those guys touch the ceiling Smith presents.

Someone, please, someone, step up in August and get themselves ready for the season.

Fulgham and Reagor, the other two wideouts who’d start alongside Smith, have the best chances of truly breaking out in 2021.

Fulgham looked like he was on the way to become the newest Philly folk hero in 2020. In five games from Week 4 to Week 8, Fulgham had 29 catches for 435 yards (15 yards per reception) and four touchdowns. He was statistically the best receiver in the league over that period and it appeared that the Eagles uncovered a diamond in the rough.

It wasn’t soon after that that Fulgham found himself in the dog house. Concerns about how he performed and handled himself in practice after his quick success left him out of favor. The talent is there though. We’ve seen it. It’s not pure projection and hope and dreams. Fulgham possesses the body of a prototypical X receiver on the outside. With or without Smith on the field, Fulgham NEEDS to be the big body target for Hurts who can affect the game both on go routes and comebacks.

Fulgham has had the greatest production of any of these dudes, however brief it was, but Reagor clearly possesses the most potential of the Eagles’ non-Smith receivers. Reagor suffered through injuries and poor play in 2020, but he has a first-round pedigree and displayed speed and tackle-breaking ability at TCU that are tantalizing. I’m not sure if a prolonged Smith absence will result in Reagor moving back to the outside after working as a slot receiver, but it shouldn’t. Keep him here. That’s where he’ll likely be when Smith is on the field. Don’t go crazy with cross-training. He should, IN THEORY, excel in both the short game and on deep balls, the two areas Hurts is going to have the most success as opposed to his inaccuracy in the middle of the field.

Maybe the slot position, increased focus from a coaching staff with a history of working with receivers, a new playbook and a new quarterback unlocks him. Maybe it was injuries, but Reagor simply didn’t display the dynamic play that he showcased at TCU. Eagles fans need it this year and Reagor needs it for himself to elude the “bust” label.

I really have zero expectations for JJAW. I don’t even know why I’d write about him.

Hightower? I’m not going to lie, I thought he had some juice last summer after viewing some video of him from his Boise State days. Hightower did get open deep on numerous occasions as a rookie, but drops (and some not super fantastic passes) were reared their head. He did have catches of 59 and 50 yards during the season. Nick Sirianni has been hands-on with coaching up Hightower in camp. That can be telling that Sirianni believes he can be a legit piece or, in a lesser light, someone who’s struggling and needs that constant feedback. If Smith is absent to kick off the season, does he get some Z receiver snaps?

I am keeping my eyes on Watkins. I don’t want this to come off as another case of Philadelphia sports fans needlessly hyping up end-of-the-roster guys, but I think he’s slightly above a JAG, someone who is a contributor as a fourth wide receiver.

Watkins appeared to have a rapport with Hurts last season, which makes sense given their time on the scout team together. Watkins had some juice on that 32-yard touchdown on a quick throw and run against Arizona in 2020.

If yesterday’s practice was any indication, the Eagles could be running similar plays in 2021. Brandon Lee Gowton noted the following in his training camp observations:

The Eagles successfully executed a red zone screen pass to Watkins for a touchdown. The receiver went untouched as he was able to follow his blockers to glory. Kind of refreshing to see the Eagles run a good screen play after being so bad in that department last year.

Let him be a burner!

There are paths for a few of these wideouts to truly make a difference, but I keep thinking that it needs to be Reagor. I’m low on him. I know most Eagles fans are too, but getting a 2017 Nelson Agholor-like bounce back year from him would do wonders for this team even with Smith on the field. How long until Eagles fans are complaining that Smith is too heavily covered because no one else can get open?

The Eagles need this Reagor come the fall: