It wasn’t that long ago we would always ask Carson Wentz why the Eagles weren’t hitting any big plays in the passing game.
The Eagles got just four catches of 40 yards or more from their wide receivers last year, only one after Week 2. Only three teams league-wide had fewer.
Two of those four were DeSean in the opener, one was Nelly Week 2 against the Falcons, the other was practice squad call-up Deontay Burnett against the Giants the last day of the season.
The Eagles wanted to get faster, and they’ve gotten faster, and although not a lot has gone right these first six weeks of the season, the Eagles have gotten explosive plays in the passing game from three of their young receivers.
Rookie 1st-round pick Jalen Reagor had a 55-yard catch from Wentz in the opener, Lions and Packers castoff Travis Fulgham scored on a 42-yard TD against the 49ers and rookie John Hightower came up with a 50-yarder Sunday against the Ravens.
That’s three young receivers with big plays, one in his first NFL game, one in his fourth NFL game and one in his fifth NFL game.
That’s something the Eagles haven’t had around here in a long time.
“The ability to stretch the field and create big plays is a game charger,” Wentz said Tuesday. “It makes it hard on defenses, especially (because) some of those are on third down, third and longs and we’re able to convert and stay on the field and ….just stay on the field and pick up chunk plays and I think that puts a lot of stress on the defense.”
The Cowboys, with Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb and Cedric Wilson, are the only other NFL team with three wide receivers 25 and under who have a reception of at least 40 yards.
Maybe DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery will be back for the Eagles’ game Thursday night against the Giants, but you would expect their snaps to be numbered as they try to revive their careers.
Their days here are numbered too.
The future of the wide receiver position is in the hands of Reagor, Fulgham, Hightower and Greg Ward, who just turned 25. Speedy Quez Watkins is also in the equation. And we have to at least mention that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who’s struggled so far, is still only 23.
In a season without many encouraging developments, the Eagles’ ability to get big plays from their young outside receivers is significant.
It means Wentz doesn’t have to try and dink and dunk up and down the field. It opens up the middle of the field. It forces defenses to play the Eagles honestly. It flips field position.
The Eagles have been missing all of that recently.
“Knowing that we have young guys that do have speed and have the ability to stretch the defense really helps everybody else,” Wentz said. “It helps the guys underneath, the tight ends and the backs, Greg Ward in the slot, all those things, all those factors can contribute to us having success. We just have to be smart on how we choose those battles and take what the defense gives us.”
It’s too early to anoint any of these guys, but Fulgham sure looks like the real deal, Reagor showed positive signs before he got hurt in Week 2 and Hightower did a nice job bouncing back from a big drop Sunday to reel in his next big-play opportunity.
They have a chance, and that’s more than we’ve been able to say about a group of young Eagles receivers in a while.