The Philadelphia Eagles are coming off of a season that saw a historically bad wide receiving corps on a team that was a few plays away from competing for a playoff spot. The Eagles found themselves ranked last in the NFC East in percentage of catches, yards and targets by wide receivers. An argument could be made that the NFC East is a talented division but they also are worse in all three categories than the lowly 1-15 Cleveland Browns. In order to change this, they made improving the wide receivers a priority in the off-season. A position that was considered a weakness now looks to be a strong and deep position which will undoubtedly lead to tough decisions. Although two of the starters at wide receivers are set, these questions still remain; how many receivers will make the roster and who will those receivers be?
Philadelphia Eagles Position Battle: Wide Receivers
How This Weakness Has Become A Strength
The Eagles made sure to fill their gaping production hole at the receiver position as soon as free agency began. They went out and signed the top free agent wide receiver on the market, Alshon Jeffery, to a one-year deal. Prior to that signing, they signed Torrey Smith after being released by the San Francisco 49ers to become a deep threat and veteran presence, which they sorely lacked from this position.
As the NFL Draft rolled around, the Eagles made sure to pick a pair of wide receivers in Mack Hollins, known for his special teams ability and versatility, and Shelton Gibson, a flat out speedster, in rounds four and five, respectively. These moves led to the eventual waiving of Dorial Green-Beckham and trading of Jordan Matthews, the team’s starting wide receivers from a year ago.
With Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner returning from last season, Marcus Johnson appearing healthy this year in preseason and the undrafted former quarterback rookie free agent in Greg Ward Jr, the Eagles find themselves with interesting stories, untapped potential and not enough roster spots. They have even been labeled as the best group of wide receivers that offensive coordinator Frank Reich has been around in a while.
With nine players competing for what will inevitably be five or six spots used for the wide receiver position and at least four of those spots being pretty much set in stone, let’s see how they stack up with one another at this point of the preseason.
Jeffery, barring injury, is the clear cut number one option and go-to receiver on this roster and he has been since the day he signed. Injuring his shoulder in July, it looked as though fans had something to worry about with Jeffery. But that now may have been overblown for precautionary reasons. There has not been this much buzz around a receiver in an Eagles uniform since Terrell Owens and he should give Carson Wentz a target to go to early, often and at crunch time.
Smith should and will be standing on the other side of the field opposite Jeffery as the team’s deep threat. He was brought in here to be that threat he once was and they expect him to take advantage of defenses that sleep on him. That is what the Eagles signed Smith to do and he finally gave the fans what they wanted in their third preseason game against the Dolphins when Wentz connected with him for a 50 yard touchdown catch.
According to Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, the slot position will be Agholor’s to begin with but he has to separate himself from Trey Burton and Mack Hollins. Following the Matthews trade, it seemed to solidify Agholor’s spot on the roster, much to the chagrin of some Eagles fans. Training camp and practices have been where Nelson has shined so far and even though they have not translated into production in-game, the hope is that it will when the regular season begins.
Hollins may be the most intriguing player from this year’s draft class, who stiff-armed his way into the hearts of Eagle fans to cap off the opening drive of the preseason with a touchdown. His ability and desire to play special teams virtually guaranteed himself a roster spot from the moment he was drafted. Additionally, Hollins has more than held his own as a wide receiver and could have given Philadelphia exactly what they needed to see to finally pull the trigger on the Bills trade to fill another hole on the roster.
“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” This quote might best describe Turner’s time here in an Eagles uniform as last year’s fan favorite has been cast aside for newer faces and flat out better wide receivers. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury has held Turner out since August 2nd and will continue to keep him sidelined for at least two more weeks. So he has not been able to establish himself as a true candidate for a roster spot. Turner could find himself as an injured reserve candidate to keep his dream alive with the franchise but his odds of making the team next year is not very good either.
Shelton Gibson is a fifth round draft pick from this past draft who finds himself on very dangerous grounds. Gibson looks to be fighting for a spot as a speedster off the bench as a wide receiver with Bryce Treggs and he has been noticeably dropping a lot of passes since training camp. As long as he makes an impact in the games, those drops won’t matter as much but he hasn’t been able to make an impact then either. Gibson has been targeted ten times with only three catches for a total of 16 yards. Those numbers combined with his unimpressive practices looks to have Shelton finding himself on the outside looking in when final cuts happen.
Treggs spent last year playing the villain role a little bit when the Eagles claimed him off waivers. It caused the team to cut fan favorite Paul Turner and he may contribute to them releasing Turner once again. His big play ability was put on display last year against the New York Giants in November and he showed flashes of it against the Green Bay Packers in this year’s first preseason game. Those two games may have peaked the Eagles interest enough to keep him around over Gibson, but it all depends on how many wide receivers they want to keep and if they feel like they need to use one of those slots on a speed guy.
The fourth preseason game versus the New York Jets may not mean more to any of the receivers than it does to Johnson. Johnson’s name has been on the radar of being the team’s fifth receiver in people’s minds but he has yet to prove his worth in the preseason. Obviously, the preseason games are not the only barometer when it comes to judging who will make the team but other than a 38 yard reception, he has almost been nonexistent in the offense and should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact against the Jets.
Ward is a converted quarterback and an undrafted rookie who has impressed many people around the organization with his abilities in training camp and practices but his lack of experience as a polished wide receiver and the lack of openings might just force him out with the Eagles hoping to keep him on as a practice squad project. Out of all of the wide receivers that may be cut, Ward could be the biggest regret out of all of them if he is picked up by another team because he quite possibly has the highest ceiling if he can put all of his tools together.
Final Roster Predictions and Depth Chart
1. Alshon Jeffery
2. Torrey Smith
3. Nelson Agholor
4. Mack Hollins
5. Bryce Treggs
As much as the Eagles could keep six or seven wide receivers, the necessity to keep that many receivers when they have guys like Darren Sproles, Trey Burton, Zach Ertz and Donnel Pumphrey that can be split out is just not there. This will be a tough call for the fifth and final wide receiver spot but Treggs gives them the speed that they will want to throw out there when the time is needed. Johnson is barely pushed out by Treggs and could easily become the 6th receiver if they decide to go that route but extra players can be used at other, weaker positions. Whether five or six receivers are kept as well as who actually takes that final spot or two can, and likely will, be decided in the final preseason game against the Jets.