For the last three years, Greg Ward Jr. has worked tirelessly to transition from college quarterback to professional wide receiver.
On Thursday night, he was one more injury away from turning back the clock.
After Cody Kessler went down with a concussion in the first quarter of the Eagles’ 24-10 preseason win in Jacksonville, the Eagles were left with just Clayton Thorson for the rest of the game because Carson Wentz wasn’t playing. Normally, a team has contingency plans during the regular season, but the Eagles had to figure out an emergency plan on the fly Thursday night.
What they came up with was simple.
“We had Greg Ward on standby,” Doug Pederson said. “He was coached up and ready to go.”
Ward, 24, hasn’t been a quarterback since 2016, his senior season at the University of Houston, where he was a dual-threat QB before attempting to make it in the NFL as a receiver. And he has served as scout team QB at times for the Eagles over the last couple of years. The Eagles also have former Ohio State QB Braxton Miller on their 90-man roster.
Despite his time away from the position, Ward was pretty confident he would have been able to perform well under center on Thursday night had they needed him and even felt confident he’d be able to run the Eagles’ offense.
So what would have happened if he got in there at QB?
“We would have won,” he said.
While Ward didn’t get to play quarterback on Thursday night, he did get to throw a pass on a trick play in the second half. His pass attempt to Carlton Agudosi in tight coverage fell incomplete. It wasn’t a very good toss so maybe his future as a pro quarterback doesn’t look great.
But his future as a pro receiver seems to look more promising by the day.
On Thursday night, Ward caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Clayton Thorson. He went up to get the ball and then navigated his way into the end zone — with the aid of nice block from Josh Perkins — for his first-ever professional touchdown. It was a beauty.
Ward has had a really good training camp and is fighting to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster. He has a shot. Ward came to Philly in 2017 and has been in the last three training camps and just keeps getting better. In between all that, he played in the short-lived AAF, before coming back to the Eagles in April.
In his third year trying to make an NFL roster, Ward has a much better understanding of the process and thinks he knows what it takes. He admitted he “didn’t know much” three years ago as a rookie.
“I think the main thing is you just have to stay consistent, never let the ups and downs get to you,” Ward said. “You just have to stay focused on your opportunities.”
Ward’s opportunity on Thursday night came when he caught that touchdown pass. And even though he’s come a long way from his days as a quarterback, he would have relished that opportunity too.
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Possible first-round receiver Brandon Aiyuk reportedly had surgery today in Philadelphia, according to NFL Network.
The speedy Arizona State receiver is thought to be a possible late-first-round or second-round pick in the NFL Draft later this month.
Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk, a possible first-round pick, underwent a core-muscle surgery today performed by noted surgeon William Meyers, sources say. Aiyuk has been dealing with the issue the last few months. Ran 4.50 at the Combine. Decided to fix now with no OTAs in sight.
Meyers, who is based in Philadelphia, is widely considered to be the top surgeon in the country for this procedure. He draws in athletes from all over the country for this particular surgery.
It’s the same surgery DeSean Jackson ended up needing last year and that another draft prospect, Laviska Shenault, had in February.
The big question with Aiyuk is this: What does this do to his draft stock?
Well, a surgery a little over two weeks from the draft certainly won’t help. But at least it explains why he ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. That’s not a bad time at all, but Aiyuk looks faster in games and that’s probably because he is.
The likelihood of no OTAs is an interesting wrinkle in this. The normal recovery time after this kind of surgery is around 4-8 weeks. So because there likely won’t be any practices until training camp, there’s a good chance Aiyuk will be completely healed by then.
In an Eagles-only mock draft on March 31, I had the Eagles taking Aiyuk with the 53rd pick but I wasn’t completely convinced he’d be there. This injury/surgery makes it slightly more likely that he is.
Replacing N’Keal Harry for the Sun Devils in 2019, Aiyuk had a big season, catching 65 passes for 1,192 yards (18.3) and 8 touchdowns. But he also played just two seasons at ASU after transferring from a JUCO program.
Despite the injury, Aiyuk tested well at the combine. And his freakish wingspan gives him a giant catch radius.
Where Aiyuk really shines is with the ball in his hands. He also returned kicks and punts at ASU and his YAC ability is impressive. Aiyuk would be a great weapon for Doug Pederson and the Eagles’ offense.
Maybe this surgery helps him fall into their range in Round 2.
Another Eagles-only mock draft, another one with them taking two receivers.
I just can’t see how they don’t at this point. With their inaction at the position all offseason, I think they need to draft at least two later this month.
Let’s not waste more time. To my latest Eagles-only mock:
Round 1-21: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
For a while now, Jefferson has been the most popular name for the Eagles with the 21st pick and for good reason. He’s a good receiver, but not considered to be one of the top three in the class. His value lines up right around where the Eagles will be picking.
Heck, my colleague at NBC Sports, Chris Simms, loves Jefferson.
The big question about Jefferson (6-1, 202) is whether or not he’ll be able to play outside at the next level. It’s a valid question and there’s legitimate concern about that. So if the Eagles wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a slot receiver in the first round, it’s going to take some projecting on their part to make the pick. And with a team that has prioritized 12 personnel in recent seasons, maybe the Eagles simply want to find a player they can play outside.
But, to me, Jefferson is just a really good receiver and I’m not as bothered by his lack of playing time outside. If we’re worried about giving Carson Wentz a reliable weapon, Jefferson fits that mold, even if he’s working inside most of the time. He can still be a game-changer working from the slot.
And it’s not like Jefferson is a sloth out there. He has good speed and athleticism, so even if Jefferson is inside, he’d be explosive from that spot.
In 2019, Jefferson caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. And he came up huge down the stretch as LSU won the national championship. There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, but I feel pretty confident Jefferson will at least be a good player at the NFL level.
Round 2-53: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
The Eagles re-signed Rodney McLeod, brought back Jalen Mills as a safety and signed Will Parks as a free agent this offseason. But none of that should stop the Eagles from drafting a safety high. And Winfield is a really good one.
Some people will be scared by his size — or lack of size, but the 5-9, 203-pound Winfield is built well and has an NFL pedigree. He’s the son of former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield. The younger Winfield is coming off a really impressive 2019 season after injuries in the previous two years limited him. In 2019, Winfield Jr. was great.
Last season, he had 83 tackles, 7 INTs (1 returned for a TD), 3 sacks. And he even returned a few punts in 2018, taking one to the house.
Winfield is not an outstanding athlete, but he’s athletic enough to get the job done and that 4.45 speed isn’t bad either.
Winfield makes up for his lack of size with incredible instincts and still hits pretty hard despite his stature. He’s fun to watch because he’s just a playmaker. And he’s versatile enough that Jim Schwartz and the Eagles should be interested.
Round 3-103: Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah
Howie Roseman is going to struggle to sit and watch 50 picks come off the board but he’d probably be pretty happy if he can still get a good pass rusher late in the third round. Remember, the Eagles’ own third-round pick went to the Lions in the trade for Darius Slay.
With Anae (uh-nigh), the Eagles would be getting a 6-3, 257-pound pass rusher who is coming off a 13-sack season at Utah and broke the school’s all-time sack record with 30.0 in four years. Anae started 38 games for the Utes and was a two-time first-team All-Pac 12 defensive end.
The Hawaiian-born Anae got an invite to the Senior Bowl this year and made the most of it. He had a good week of practices and then picked up three sacks in the game.
Utah EDGE Bradlee Anae with the two-hand swipe to beat left tackle Terrence Steele. Anae used this move during the season and throughout the week for a few sacks in 1-on-1 periods. pic.twitter.com/nEFbqEuufm
Because Anae had a solid performance at the combine and he was good at the Senior Bowl. He was a high-motor player for Utah, putting together some impressive tape.
The Eagles have a need at defensive end too. Because Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are back in 2020 but neither are locked up long-term and there isn’t much depth after them either.
Round 4-127: Davion Taylor, LB, Colorado
The Eagles probably won’t draft a linebacker super early but here’s a chance for them to wait until the fourth round and get a really intriguing player with an amazing athletic profile.
Taylor (6-0, 228) is obviously undersized but that’s kind of what the Eagles want in their linebackers these days. With a little more polish, he has the chance to be a really good player. He certainly has the physical makeup for it.
If you think his 4.49 time in the 40 at the combine is fast, well, he shaved even more time off of it at the Colorado pro day. This dude has track speed and it showed up on the field. Here was one of his more eye-popping collegiate plays:
Player to keep an eye on: Colorado LB Davion Taylor.
Taylor got a late start in football because of religious beliefs — check out his story (it’s pretty interesting) — so he’s still a work in progress. But with the physical tools he possesses, the right coaches could make him into an impressive player.
Round 4-145: Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina
Here comes the double-dip for the Eagles at receiver. This time, they nab Edwards (6-3, 212), who I think would have gone a little higher if not for injury concerns. I think the Eagles will stay away from injury-concern guys at the top of the draft but if they can find value later on with guys who slip because of it, they might take a chance.
Edwards final college season ended with a knee injury and then he broke his foot before the combine so he couldn’t participate. I think he would have tested very well.
He’s a big, strong receiver who has plenty of long speed. Edwards made some impressive plays for the Gamecocks.
In his four-year career, despite shaky quarterback play, Edwards caught 234 passes for 3,045 yards and 22 touchdowns. Edwards is the South Carolina record holder for career receptions, yards and finished one touchdown behind Sidney Rice and Alshon Jeffery for that record.
Round 4-146: Harrison Hand, CB, Temple
This is probably later than some would like to see a cornerback taken but there’s a chance the board simply falls this way. And Hand would be a nice scoop late in the fourth round. The Cherry Hill product starting his college career at Baylor but transferred to Temple for the 2019 season and was granted a waiver to play immediately.
In his one season with the Owls, Hand had 3 INTs, 5 PBUs and 4 TFLs. His junior season at Temple wasn’t all good, but he showed some traits that might make him a good NFL player.
At the combine, Hand ran a 4.52, which is solid but he would have likely gotten that under 4.5 at Temple’s pro day. Oh well.
Round 5-168: Alex Taylor, OT, South Carolina State
The Eagles lost Halapoulivaati Vaitai in free agency and don’t have a ton backing up Andre Dillard and Lane Johnson right now. Jordan Mailata might be ready … he might not. So the Eagles get a guy who can play multiple positions in the next round but for now, they get another project for Jeff Stoutland.
Taylor is 6-8, 308 and comes from the same FCS school that produced Javon Hargrave in 2016.
A former basketball player, the thing that stands out about Taylor is his athleticism. In fact, he transferred to SCSU to play basketball before getting back on the football field.
Round 6-190: Calvin Throckmorton, iOL, Oregon
No, I don’t have the Eagles taking Throckmorton just because his name is great — although that certainly didn’t hurt. Throckmorton is 6-foot-5, 317 pounds and has the versatility to play several spots along the line. That alone should be enough to like him.
At Oregon, Throckmorton started a total of 52 games coming at four different positions. The only spot he didn’t start was at left guard. According to Oregon, he allowed just one sack in his last 45 games. Throckmorton was a late addition to the Senior Bowl but the brainy senior picked up the offense very quickly and played both tackle spots and center during the actual game.
Oregon OL Calvin Throckmorton was a great addition to the #SeniorBowl. I thought he was one of the better lineman today. Strictly at left tackle, Throckmorton absolutely handled bodies due to his power and finishing toughness. The lack of length in pass protection was evident. pic.twitter.com/GXCCLpCvoN
Throckmorton is big and accomplished but there are questions about where he fits best at the next level. Many think it’s inside because he’s not a great athlete. That’s also a reason why he’s available this late in the draft.