If this happened last year?
It would have been a disaster.
Probably more playing time for Mack Hollins.
This year, it looks like the Eagles are a little better equipped to get by without one of their key receivers.
Jalen Reagor, the Eagles’ promising rookie 1st-round pick, is out for the start of the regular season with a shoulder injury, but the Eagles do have speedy rookie John Hightower and improved – we think – second-year pro J.J. Arcega-Whiteside waiting in the wings.
With DeSean Jackson and Greg Ward both healthy and looking strong going into the opener in Washington a week from Sunday, Arcega-Whiteside and Hightower give Carson Wentz additional options down the field.
“I'm very comfortable with J.J.,” Doug Pederson said. “He's played. He has some game experience. I think he's worked well with Carson. Carson is understanding him better this year, having worked now more, I would say, exclusively together.
“Hightower has had a good camp. The one thing with him right now is just (a lack of) game experience. He's a rookie, a first-year player.”
The Eagles had such little receiving depth last year and so many injuries they wound up facing the Seahawks in the playoffs with four receivers who had all been on a practice squad as late as Nov. 23.
They overhauled the position this offseason, drafting Reagor, Hightower and Quez Watkins, acquiring Marquis Goodwin – who opted out – and cutting ties with former 1st-round pick Nelson Agholor.
Unless Deontay Burnett survives final cuts – and he’s had a good camp – Ward will be the only receiver who was in uniform when last year ended who’ll be on the field on opening day.
Arcega-Whiteside got to play a ton with all the injuries last year and especially after the Eagles cut Hollins in early December.
He played 498 snaps but caught just 10 passes.
JJAW has looked like a different person this summer, and he spoke recently about how his game has evolved since he came into the NFL last year as just a guy who would try to catch jump balls.
“Shoot, in college I think I had about 10 touchdowns just putting my body on people and jump balling,” he said. “You can still do that in NFL, but it's not as easy, so I had to learn new some new tricks, some new techniques, to be able to get myself open and still get in those same positions, but you know, it's not like I could just run up to them and body them up. I’ve got to do different things. Being able to run some different routes, running some ins, running some outs, running some stops, so then they're like, ‘All right, he can go anywhere and then when I do put my body on the defender and get that jump ball, then they're not thinking, 'Oh yeah, it's the jump ball coming all the time,' he has to play more honest.”
Like JJAW, we’re just projecting with Hightower. He’s a 5th-round rookie without any preseason games, so it’s impossible to say whether he’ll be able to translate the playmaking we’ve seen on the practice field into games.
It’s a lot to ask.
“I feel like I’m adjusting to the game speed pretty well,” he said. “Just knowing the plays, not like still learning them, but actually knowing what I got has helped me a lot. … With the game coming up, it’s kind of different with the different offseason and everything. But wherever they put me in, I’m going to go out there and do my thing.”
Hightower will make his NFL debut in 11 days at FedEx Field, about a seven-minute from where he grew up in Landover, Maryland.
This past Sunday, he set foot in an NFL stadium for the first time when the Eagles practiced at the Linc.
He said that kind of made the upcoming season seem more real.
“Yeah, it definitely made it feel more real going in there with the mindset of, ‘Today is a game.’ We went through pre-game festivities and stuff like that. It definitely felt real other than no fans being in the stadium, but it definitely felt good to get out there and play on the field.”
With Alshon Jeffery out for the start of the season with his foot injury from last year, the Eagles’ wide receiver corps for the opener will be Jackson, Ward, JJAW, Hightower and possibly Watkins and-or Burnett.
Final cuts are Saturday, so we’ll know more in a few days.
But whatever happens, the 23-year-old Arcega-Whiteside and 24-year-old Hightower are two youngsters the Eagles will be relying heavily on.
“It doesn't seem to be too big for either one of those players right now,” Pederson said. “I'm looking forward to both of them competing and helping us as we start the season.”