Eagles

Eagles' trio of wide receivers is best group in team history

Eagles' trio of wide receivers is best group in team history

Last year’s group of wide receivers was the Eagles’ best ever.

Not for long.

Alshon Jeffery is coming off a nine-touchdown regular season and exceptional postseason and should be fully healthy this fall. Nelson Agholor made huge strides in his third season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be even better this year. And Mike Wallace, one of only nine receivers with 1,700 yards and a 14.0 average over the last two years, is a significant upgrade over Torrey Smith.

Try finding a better trio of receivers in Eagles history. You can’t.

Heck, there were a lot of years around here where the Eagles didn’t have one wide receiver as good as any of these guys.

The Eagles have a storied past in a lot of ways, but wide receiver has been a black hole for the franchise for most of the modern era.

Did you know that during the six-year period from 1998 through 2003, Eagles wide receivers combined for only seven 100-yard games in 105 games?

And during the 23 years from 1986 through 2008 — basically between Mike Quick’s heyday and DeSean Jackson’s first big year — Eagles receivers had a total of four Pro Bowl seasons? One by Fred Barnett in 1992, two by an aging Irving Fryar in 1996 and 1997 and then T.O. in 2004.

I mean, we used to get excited around here when Victor Bailey, Chris T. Jones and Reggie Brown were drafted.

It’s been that bad!

The DeSean-Maclin-Avant trio was the best in Eagles history until last year.

Then Jeffery proved to be a big-time big-play performer in his first year with the Eagles. He played hurt, he made crazy catches and he was incredibly consistent, especially in the postseason.

Agholor showed remarkable mental strength in shrugging off the disastrous start to his career and becoming a flashy playmaker.

Smith had his moments, but Wallace gives the Eagles the same sort of big-play speed as Smith with far better production (122 catches, 1,765 yards, 8 TDs the last two years compared to 56, 697, 5 for Smith).

Jeffery, Agholor and Wallace — then with the Steelers — each had at least 50 catches and at least 700 yards last year. Needless to say, the Eagles have never had three wide receivers the same year with 50 and 700.

This is going to be crazy.

How do you stop an offense that has Agholor, Jeffery and Wallace? What team has three corners that can match up with that trio?

And that’s not even considering Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert at tight end and running backs Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement coming out of the backfield.

Along with wideout depth from Mack Hollins and possibly Markus Wheaton, Shelton Gibson or Bryce Treggs.

And all of it operated by a quarterback who was enjoying a record-setting MVP season before he got hurt?

Good luck, NFL defenses.

You can’t stop this offense.

Best in Eagles history?

How can it not be?

Most of the great receivers in Eagles history never played with other really good receivers.

Mike Quick blossomed after Harold’s peak years, and the receivers he played alongside during his big seasons were guys like Kenny Jackson, Ron Johnson and Cris Carter before he got good. By the time Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams emerged as solid receivers, Quick’s knees were giving out and he was in his final season.

Harold Carmichael is the best in franchise history, but there was only one year in which a teammate had at least 600 yards — and that was the 1980 Super Bowl season, when Charlie Smith had his best year.

Harold Jackson and Ben Hawkins had some good years together but there was a never a productive third receiver. T.O. had Todd Pinkston and James Thrash. Irving Fryar had Chris T. Jones.

Now, obviously the game has changed a lot, and the third receiver — which 30 years ago wasn’t an important guy — is now a crucial part of any NFL offense. So we’ve included below both a post-1990 list of the top Eagles wide receiver trios and a 1990 and earlier list with the top duos.

But the most important thing is that the group the Eagles have assembled now is experienced, versatile, fast and productive. They make big plays, they get in the end zone, and they’re durable.

The Eagles won a Super Bowl last year with the best trio of receivers in franchise history.

Then they went out and got better.

Top trios (since 1991)

2017
Nelson Agholor [62 catches-768 yards, 8 TDs]
Alshon Jeffery [57-789, 9]
Torrey Smith [36-430, 2]

2014
Jeremy Maclin [85-1,318, 10]
Jordan Matthews [67-872, 8]
Riley Cooper [55-577, 3]

2010
DeSean Jackson [47-1,056, 6]
Jeremy Maclin [70-964, 10]
Jason Avant [51-573, 1]

2011
DeSean Jackson [58-961, 4]
Jeremy Maclin [63-859, 5]
Jason Avant [52-679, 1]

2002
Todd Pinkston [60-798, 7]
James Thrash [52-635, 6]
Antonio Freeman [46-600, 4]

Top duos (up through 1990)

1961
Tommy McDonald [64-1,144, 13]
Pete Retzlaff [50-769, 8]

1967
Ben Hawkins [59-1,265, 10]
Gary Ballman [36-524, 6]

1969
Harold Jackson [65-1,116, 9]
Ben Hawkins [43-761, 8]

1980
Harold Carmichael [48-815, 9]
Charlie Smith [47-825, 3]

1990
Calvin Williams [37-602, 9]
Fred Barnett [36-721, 8]

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• A progress report for Eagles' draft picks after spring practices 

Without desperate needs, look for Eagles to play long game in this NFL draft

Without desperate needs, look for Eagles to play long game in this NFL draft

If the Eagles draft a lineman early in the 2019 draft and then everything goes perfectly with the guys who are already on the roster, that rookie might not play much or at all in his first NFL season.

The Eagles would be OK with that. 

And that goes for any position where the Eagles don’t have immediate, desperate needs. By design, there are many.  

See, the Birds tried their best to fill the holes in their roster during free agency. Now, they enter the draft Thursday feeling pretty free. They’re not beholden to any particularly dire draft needs, which should help them avoid an unnecessary reach when they’re on the clock at 25. It’s a sound plan to avoid a dangerous temptation. 

“That’s one of the things that’s exciting with where we are right now,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said last week. “We could go play right now and we think we’re a pretty good team.”

Roseman insists the Eagles are completely focused on the long-term welfare of the franchise. Part of the luxury of having a de facto GM and a head coach with long leashes is that there’s less pressure to find players who will produce and start immediately. Roseman and Doug Pederson can afford to think about the long term without worrying about saving their hides in 2019. Many teams have a much different dynamic. 

Last week, I asked Roseman how the Eagles balance long-term goals with wanting to see their high draft picks contribute immediately: 

Certainly, when you draft someone high, when it’s in the first round, second round, you love to see him play. That’s part of the great process that we have, that you get to see them play on the field in the National Football League after you spend all this time evaluating and scouting them, taking them off the board and bringing them to Philly. But that’s really about what’s best for the team. 

We had a situation where in 2002, we drafted Lito (Sheppard) and Sheldon (Brown) and they didn’t play at all (as rookies). And in 2004, they were huge contributors to our football team. We can’t view the draft as just what’s best for just this moment. We have to view this draft as what’s best for our team going forward.

We’ve heard the Lito/Sheldon example before and, even though that was 17 years ago and Roseman was still a low-level front office employee back then, it’s a good example. Neither player (Sheppard was a first-rounder, Brown was a second-rounder) started a single game as rookies because they were stuck behind Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. But both were starters for the Super Bowl team just two years later. 

Still, teams would typically like to get a certain level of production out of their first pick in the draft. Here’s a look at the Eagles’ first picks of the last several drafts and how much they’ve played as rookies: 

2018: Dallas Goedert (No. 49): 16 games, 8 starts, 48% of offensive snaps

2017: Derek Barnett (No. 14): 15 games, 0 starts, 41% of defensive snaps

2016: Carson Wentz (No. 2): 16 games, 16 starts, 99% of offensive snaps

2015: Nelson Agholor (No. 20): 13 games, 12 starts, 58% of offensive snaps

2014: Marcus Smith (No. 26): 8 games, 0 starts, 6% of defensive snaps 

2013: Lane Johnson (No. 4) 16 games, 16 starts, 100% of offensive snaps 

2012: Fletcher Cox (No. 12) 15 games, 9 starts, 48.6% of defensive snaps 

Just three of the Eagles’ last seven first picks have played more than 50 percent of snaps on their respective side of the ball and two of them were top-five picks. Just look at the last two years. The Eagles took Barnett in 2017 despite having Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Chris Long on the roster. They took Goedert last year despite having Zach Ertz. 

So how much will the Eagles’ first pick play in 2019? That’s a hard question to answer. It’s really dependent on the position of the player and the health of the veterans in front of them. Assuming good health, a defensive lineman would be a rotational player, an offensive lineman might be a backup, a receiver would be rotational, a safety would see the field in big nickel, a running back would be in a rotation and a linebacker might start. 

But the beauty of the Eagles’ situation right now is that they don’t have to care about any of that. They can afford to take the best player on the board and play the long game. 

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Eagles NFL draft options at No. 25: Chris Lindstrom

Eagles NFL draft options at No. 25: Chris Lindstrom

In four years at BC, Chris Lindstrom played in 50 games and became a starter as a freshman back in 2015. That’s a ton of college experience. 

Most of his time in college was spent at right guard, but Lindstrom did play some tackle briefly. He clearly projects as a guard or possibly center at the next level, but a damn good one. And he comes from a family of good offensive linemen, specifically his father, who was a Hall of Famer at Boston University. 

There’s a thought that guard might not be as valuable a position as tackle, but with the increasing threat of interior pass-rushers, that’s not exactly a fair assessment. And Lindstrom was a first-team All-ACC player as a senior in 2018. 

Lindstrom is a good athlete with quickness, with a football pedigree and plenty of starting college experience. Plug-and-play. There’s not much to dislike about him. 

Current roster at iOL: The Eagles didn’t pick up the option on Stefen Wisniewski’s contract, so he’s a free agent. Isaac Seumalo is the starter at left guard, Jason Kelce is the starter at center and Brandon Brooks is the starter at right guard, although, he is coming off an Achilles tear. Their top (and only) interior backup is Matt Pryor, who was a sixth-rounder last season. 

How he would fit: Lindstrom has the ability to come in and start, which is big if Brooks isn’t ready. But he might also challenge Seumalo for that starting left guard spot. Then Seumalo could be a utility backup and a good one at that.  

Eagles history at iOL in draft: The last time the Eagles drafted a guard in the first round, they took an old Canadian fireman in 2011. But that can’t prevent the Eagles from going guard again. They did use a Day 2 pick on Seumalo just a couple years ago, so they still value interior linemen. 

Other options at 25