Eagles

Have Eagles really done enough to fix wide receiver position?

Have Eagles really done enough to fix wide receiver position?

Conventional wisdom says the Eagles upgraded the wide receiver position this offseason.

Not like they had any choice.

Their wide receiver production was the worst in modern Eagles history.

• So bad that for the first time since 1966 they didn’t have a wide receiver with 500 yards.

• So bad that they didn’t have any WRs ranked in the top 65 in the NFL in yards.

• So bad that they didn’t have a receiver all year record consecutive games with at least 65 yards. 

• So bad that the five receivers that suited up for the playoff game against the Seahawks had a combined 55 career receptions.

• So bad that Doug Pederson fired Carson Walch and hired Aaron Moorehead as the team's sixth WRs coach in six years.

It was time for a total rebuild, and that’s what Howie Roseman did.

But as we wait to see what form — if any — a 2020 NFL season takes, the reality is that there isn’t a single sure thing in the restructured Eagles wide receiver corps.

Every single guy is a big, giant question mark.

There are once-great veterans. Youngsters with potential. Long shots who could be keepers.

But there isn’t one guy who you can safely say, “OK, he’s going to catch 65 passes for 850 yards and seven touchdowns this year.”

Yet the Eagles rank sixth in projected 2020 wide receiver spending at $34.1 million, according to Spotrac.

The Eagles currently have 14 wide receivers on the roster. We broke them down into five categories.

Who will wind up making the team? Who will wind up starting? Who will wind up contributing? 

How good will they really be?

A lot of projecting so far. A lot of unknowns. And a lot of hoping.

One-time Pro Bowlers

DeSean Jackson is 33 years old and Alshon Jeffery is 30. Jeffery got significant snaps in only eight games last year and Jackson in just one, although it was an explosive one. Neither has made a Pro Bowl since 2013, both are coming off serious injuries and both are at an age where even healthy receivers begin declining.

Jackson is on the books with an $8.6 million cap figure this year and Jeffery a whopping $15.45 million. The Eagles need production at those numbers. But how much can they expect from Jackson and Jeffery?

Reclamation project

The Eagles gave up virtually nothing to take speedy Marquise Goodwin and his bloated contract off the 49ers’ hands. 

But what are they getting in Goodwin? A guy who has 35 catches the last two years, has averaged 332 yards in his seven NFL seasons and has caught 30 passes just once, in his excellent 2017 season.

Goodwin has a $4.28 million cap figure, so if he makes the team, he better produce. But what does he have left? And can the Eagles get enough of a sense of what they have in Goodwin in a curtailed offseason to make that $4.28 million commitment?

Young draft picks

The real key to this wide receiving corps isn’t Jackson, Jeffery or Goodwin. It’s the 23-year-old JJ Arcega-Whiteside and the 21-year-old Jalen Reagor, the Eagles’ second- and first-round draft picks the last two years.

Reagor was the 21st pick this year and you’d expect a sizeable contribution as a rookie. JJAW was terrible last year but you’d hope for a big jump in Year 2. The reality is Roseman has never drafted an elite wide receiver. Or even a better-than-average one.

Reagor and/or JJAW have to end that streak.

Practice squad posse

Greg Ward is the closest thing to a sure thing the Eagles have, and he’s played seven games in his career. He had nearly half the catches by Eagles WRs the last seven games of the season (28 of 59). But it's still a very small body of work.

Deontay Burnett had a big 41-yard catch against the Giants — the fourth-longest catch of the year by an Eagles WR — and Ward, Burnett, Robert Davis, Marcus Green and Shelton Gibson make it Eagles six 2019 practice squad receivers currently on the roster. Can any of them really be factors?

Rookie long shots

Rookie fifth-round pick John Hightower and sixth-rounder Quez Watkins are both late-round speeders. Manasseh Bailey had a fine career at Morgan State and Khalil Tate is trying to convert from quarterback to wide out, much like Ward did after playing QB at Houston.

Hightower probably has the best shot from this group to make the team and find his way onto the field, but at this point, without OTAs or preseason games, they’re all long shots.

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Chad Johnson geeked up about these DeSean Jackson clips from training camp

Chad Johnson geeked up about these DeSean Jackson clips from training camp

DeSean Jackson is 33 years old now and he’s coming off a sports hernia surgery that basically wrecked his 2019 season. 

But he still has it. 

On Friday afternoon, former NFL receiver Chad Johnson shared some 1-on-1 practice video that Jackson sent his way from the Eagles’ ongoing training camp practices. Johnson was pretty excited to get these clips and posted a couple on his Twitter account. 

That one is Jackson going against Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, in his first training camp with the Eagles. This will be a fun battle all camp long. Last year in training camp, DeSean dominated but he didn’t have a top tier cornerback to go against. 

It was fun to watch Jackson do this to the DBs in camp last year, but now he’s going against a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the best corners in the game. And Slay still stood no chance. 

That little hesitation step from Jackson and the explosion out of it is pretty wild. In a regular foot race no one is going to beat Jackson; if he gets the DB flat-footed, forget about it. And Jackson is going to beat corners as long as he’s healthy. That’s why so many defensive coordinators slide any help they can that way. 

And then there’s this hitch route that Johnson posted with some NSFW language.

On that one, you can see that Slay has to respect the deep ball and Jackson has that change of direction ability. One of the misconceptions about Jackson is that he’s just a go route deep threat; but that’s not the case. He can run short and intermediate routes well and it’s all set up from his ability to burn corners deep. 

The Eagles won’t be in pads until Monday, which is also when reporters are allowed to watch practice. I can’t wait to see this battle in person and report back. 

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Jon Gruden's curious comparison of Nelson Agholor and Randall Cunningham

Jon Gruden's curious comparison of Nelson Agholor and Randall Cunningham

Twenty-five years ago, Randall Cunningham retired after a dismal final season with the Eagles. 

Two years later he came out of retirement, signed with the Vikings and a year later had one of the greatest quarterback seasons ever, earned MVP honors and would have taken the Vikings to the Super Bowl if not for some terrible coaching by Dennis Green.

Cunningham’s offensive coordinator his last year in Philly? Jon Gruden.

Gruden today is head coach of the Raiders, and one of his pet projects is Nelson Agholor.

“A change of scenery worked for Randall Cunningham, maybe it will work for him,” Gruden told the Athletic.

Interestingly, Cunningham, who settled in Las Vegas after playing college football at UNLV, is now the Raiders’ team chaplain.

As for Agholor, he’s trying to rebuild a career that despite some great moments in 2017 and a brilliant Super Bowl never lived up to expectations.

"I trust him and I think he was picked high in the draft for a reason,” Gruden said of Agholor. "He’s a good player. You can pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer and they will probably say something different, but this guy has caught over 200 passes, he’s a young guy, he has played split end, flanker and in the slot. He caught eight or nine passes in a Super Bowl (9-for-84) and won a Super Bowl. So he's a world champion. He's a great person.”

Agholor caught 224 passes for 2,515 yards and 18 touchdowns in five seasons with the Eagles, who made him the 20th pick in Chip Kelly’s 2015 draft.

He never caught more than 768 yards in a season and he surpassed 64 yards in only nine of his 76 games here.

Agholor said he and Gruden actually have a family connection that goes back to when he was in high school at Berkeley Prep in Tampa and Gruden had just finished coaching the Buccaneers.

“He actually used to hang around after his days coaching in Tampa, he still lived in Tampa, and he would always go to a racetrack near his home, and my brother worked at that racetrack so him and my brother spent a lot of time talking every morning when Jon was getting his coffee about football and about my college career and things like that,” Agholor said in a Zoom call with Raiders writers. 

“So it’s a blessing to be in this opportunity having a previous relationship. But at the end of the day I chose this relationship because he knows the game and all I want to do is learn and be a better player.”

The Eagles, who paid Agholor nearly $19 million over the last five years, made no attempt to re-sign the 27-year-old after last season ended.

He signed a one-year minimum salary benefit deal with the Raiders worth barely above minimum wage - $1.0475 million.

In Vegas, he’ll likely compete for slot reps with Hunter Renfrow, who had 49-for-605 with 4 TDs as a rookie 5th-round pick last year.

“Honestly, this is a beautiful opportunity for me to get a chance to play with a guy like Jon Gruden, who has a background in coaching receivers,” Agholor said. “I chose this opportunity to make myself a better player. There’s no better opportunity to play for a head coach that knows receiver play and can articulate ways you can get better.

“My No. 1 goal is to progress as a player.  Lot of things that happened in the past, some really good things and some things I wanted to grow from. I told myself this opportunity is to be 2 percent better than the player I was in my previous five years.”
 

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