We all knew coming out of that Seattle playoff loss eight months ago that the Eagles had to accomplish two things during the offseason.
Get a lot better at receiver.
Get a lot better at cornerback.
They had no choice.
Their wide receivers were so bad last year that they didn’t have one with 500 yards for the first time since 1966.
Their cornerbacks were so bad last year they allowed the most pass plays of 40 yards or more in the entire NFL.
The NFL is a wide-open, high-flying, down-the-field passing league these days, and no matter how good you are everywhere else — elite QB, loaded o-line and d-line, explosive running back, record-setting tight end — if you’re lacking at receiver and corner you’re just not going to get very far.
Here we are now and I’m sure everybody will have some complaints about the Eagles’ offseason — they should have drafted this guy, should have signed that guy. But it’s hard to argue that they didn’t upgrade the two areas they HAD to upgrade.
Opening day 2019 , the Eagles’ corners were Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Avonte Maddox (Cre’Von LeBlanc was hurt).
Opening day 2020, the Eagles’ corners will be Darius Slay, Maddox, LeBlanc, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Craig James.
VERDICT: Huge upgrade.
Opening day 2019, the Eagles’ receivers were Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholer, Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Opening day 2020, their receivers will be Jackson, JJAW, Greg Ward, John Hightower and Quez Watkins, with Jalen Reagor soon to follow.
VERDICT: Huge upgrade.
Howie Roseman’s plan was to attack receiver in the draft and corner in free agency.
And whether you preferred Justin Jefferson or Reagor, either one is going to give you more than what the Eagles were running out there last year.
Hightower and Watkins, while still raw and with a lot to learn, give the Eagles a dimension of speed sorely lacking a year ago. This is a team whose WRs went 13 straight games without a 40-yard catch. That won’t happen this year.
Whatever the Eagles get from Jackson and Jeffery is a bonus, as opposed to last year, when the Eagles were so dependent on them that once they got hurt they barely had anything left.
Factor in what sure looks like an improved JJAW and even with a bunch of question marks, this WR crew looks much better — and faster — than a year ago.
At corner, the centerpiece is Slay, who gives the Eagles their first legit star corner since Asante Samuel a decade ago. Maddox has to prove he’s up to the challenge of a full load at outside corner, but with Slay traveling, Maddox won’t have to handle the other team’s top receiver.
Mills always battled and was terrific in the red zone, but he just didn’t have the wheels to hang at outside corner. We’ll see how it goes at safety, but there’s no question the Eagles have more speed at corner now to contend with the Amari Coopers, Terry McLaurins and Darius Slaytons of the world.
And just moving on from Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas is a positive. Even if it does reflect poorly on that 2017 draft, it rids the Eagles of two agonizingly inconsistent corners and opens up more playing time for the under-rated LeBlanc.
Four of the seven receivers who played the most snaps last year are gone. And four of the six corners who played the most snaps last year are gone and a fifth is now at a different position.
And don’t forget that the Eagles didn’t just overhaul the receiver and cornerback positions, they brought in highly regarded and energetic new position coaches at both spots as well.
That will help.
There are still concerns at the NovaCare Complex. Big ones.
The mounting injuries. Lack of offensive line depth. Lack of linebacker experience. Lack of proven young edge rushers. A left tackle who doesn’t want to play left tackle.
But every NFL team has areas of concern. Every team’s fan base is panicking about something right now.
And as we all get ready for what we hope is a full NFL season, the Eagles seem to have transformed a couple of those areas of panic into areas of hope.