The plan for John Hightower was to sit and learn and wait his turn this year. Like most fifth-round draft picks.
Then Jalen Reagor got hurt. And DeSean Jackson got hurt. And Alshon Jeffery stayed hurt. And J.J. Arcega-Whiteside didn’t produce as hoped.
All of a sudden the Eagles needed Hightower. There wasn't any time for sitting and waiting and learning.
And while the first seven games of his rookie year haven’t been perfect, we’re all starting to see the speedy Hightower’s vast potential.
There have been drops. There have been bad drops. But on Thursday night, Hightower became the first Eagles rookie in 76 years — since Mel Bleeker in 1944 — with a 50-yard catch in consecutive games.
And considering how desperately this offense has needed a deep threat, Hightower’s speed and ability to track deep balls has been a godsend.
On Sunday against the Ravens, Hightower dropped a big 50-yarder from Wentz but bounced back with a 50-yard catch on the Jason Croom touchdown drive.
And Thursday night, his 59-yarder got the Eagles out of the soup and deep into Giants territory when they trailed by 11 with 5 1/2 minutes left and desperately needed a chunk play. It led directly to the Greg Ward TD.
“It was clutch and it was a huge play in that moment," Wentz said. "I believe we were down two scores there and [our] backs were against the wall. John keeps putting his speed on tape. He keeps showing that he can run by defenders."
Overall, Hightower has 9 catches for 166 yards, and that’s already the most receiving yards by an Eagles rookie drafted in the fifth round or later since Calvin Williams had 602 in 1990.
He’s the Eagles’ first rookie with multiple 50-yard catches since Jeremy Maclin in 2009 and one of just three NFL players with more than one 50-yarder this year, along with Jamison Crowder and D.K. Metcalf.
The bombs have been few and far between for Wentz these past few years. Not because he can't throw a good deep ball but because he hasn't had anybody to go get them.
So considering that he and Hightower didn’t have an offseason together and are just starting to get a feel for each other, it’s exciting to imagine what could develop between these two.
“I’m going to give him and all these guys opportunities down the field when the play call dictates it,” Wentz said. “He made a great play (vs. the Giants). I thought he was about to spin out of that and score, but that was a huge play for us and he’s going to keep getting better and better. I like what I see — a lot — from him.”
No team in football has hit on more 50-yard pass plays this year than the Eagles.
They do have a game in hand, but considering that they hit on only two all last year – none in their last 16 games – you can see why Wentz is so fired up.
After years of trying, the Eagles finally seem to have a stable of talented young receivers, with 25-year-old Fulgham, 25-year-old Greg Ward, 24-year-old Hightower and 21-year-old Reagor, who the Eagles hope to get back after the bye. And there’s always 23-year-old Arcega-Whiteside. We'll see.
But Hightower has that dimension of pure outside speed the Eagles have been missing since D-Jack was a kid a decade ago.
The ability to fly down the field and get on top of a cornerback.
It’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Especially if you’re Wentz and you’ve been waiting for that deep threat since the day you were drafted.