The noise is getting louder in the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver room. The veterans are getting healthy and the young wide receivers have shown lots of potential. The team’s wide receiver room currently consists of:
- Alshon Jeffery (Hasn’t played this season due to injury)
- DeSean Jackson (Out the last 2 games with injury)
- Jalen Reagor (Out the last 3 games due to injury)
- Travis Fulgham
- Greg Ward
- Marquise Goodwin (COVID Opt-Out)
- Quez Watkins (Played first career snaps last Sunday at Pittsburgh)
- JJ Arcega-Whiteside
- John Hightower
- Deontay Burnett has played in 2 games this season but returned to practice squad after 49ers game
There will be tough decisions that have to be made by the front office.
Travis Fulgham made his presence known to the world in week 4 by catching the game winning touchdown pass after he was called up from the practice squad during the week (Fulgham was profiled in an article earlier in the week). Fulgham then exploded onto the national stage with a 10 catch-152 yard-1 touchdown performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fulgham has proved he deserves to stick around and be a relevant member of the Eagles offense going forward.
Elsewhere, the room consists of JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, three rookies, and two veteran wideouts.
Arcega-Whiteside is a former 2nd round pick who has largely been a non-factor throughout his short career. Arcega-Whiteside has played in 4 games this season as has just 1 catch for 37 yards. His case to continue to be on the roster continues to shrink. There’s almost no justification for Arcega-Whiteside to be on the roster other than he’s a former second round pick. When a player called up from the practice squad who wasn’t in the league a few weeks ago can come in and contribute more than what a player who was picked in the 2nd round has in his entire tenure with the team, it’s not a great look.
For Greg Ward, he’s developed into one of the better slot receivers in the league, in my opinion. Ward has displayed a knack for finding soft spots in coverage, keen route running ability and sure hands. He’s been the most consistent force in the room over the last two seasons. He will be the starting slot receiver in Philadelphia for a while.
Two of the three rookies have differing trajectories than one.
John Hightower was forced to play early in the season due to injury and he’s even started 3 games. Per Next-Gen Stats, Hightower ranks 13th (among receivers with at least 15 targets) in average separation and 1st in average targeted air yards. Hightower has shown the ability to run precise routes, get separation, and get open. However, with the good there is also some bad. Hightower has the 4th lowest catch percentage (among receivers with at least 15 targets). He’s made some rookie mistakes within his route running (week 1) and situational awareness (week 5). Considering, he’s seen a jump in playing time due to injuries elsewhere on the team, Hightower’s positives are enough for him to remain on the roster but his playing time (59.8 % of offensive snaps per Football Outsiders) may be cut back.
Jalen Reagor was the Eagles 1st round pick in April’s draft. Reagor is going to be on the roster and he’s going to play a huge role in the offense. Before his thumb injury Reagor was averaging a stellar 19.2 yards per catch and 18.9-yard average depth of target (Stats per Pro-Football Reference). Reagor is expected to return after the bye week and he will factor in with the teams plans at the position.
For Quez Watkins, there’s very little to analyze. Watkins wasn’t active in the team’s first four games of the season with a hamstring injury and only played 5 snaps in his debut (week 5). Watkins intangibles are present, however. He ran a 4.35 40-yard dash and was a a first team All-Conference USA selection after catching 64 passes for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns in 2019. Due to the fact that we haven’t seen much of him this season, the likelihood of him sticking on the roster is slim. It’s very likely that he’ll be demoted to the practice squad and protected until the team needs him. (An important thing to note with Watkins is that he wasn’t on the practice squad and was on IR, so his ability to be promoted to the roster as the 54th man (if needed) isn’t impacted.
The last two (soon to be) active members of the wide receiver room are the two veterans: DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. Jackson has played in 2 and a half games, after leaving week 3 in the 3rd quarter with injury. In his limited gametime, Jackson had 10 catches for 121 yards and no touchdowns. In his return to Philadelphia, Jackson has played in just 3 full games along with 2 games under 20% of snaps in 2019 and as stated, he left in the 3rd quarter of week 3 against the Bengals. This equates to Jackson missing 16 of 22 possible games. With his injury history and the fact that he was already on a load management plan of sorts, I can’t see Jackson playing a huge role (such as starting week in and week out) in the offense when he does return from injury.
The last player in the room is Alshon Jeffery, who hasn’t played since week 14 of last season. Since the superbowl in 2017, Jeffery has missed 14 games due to injury. His play has somewhat declined but he still has his huge body frame that can make contested catches over the top of defenders and he is still a huge target in the redzone. It’s difficult to map where Jeffery will fall in the pecking order at receiver because we haven’t seen him in actual in game action in over almost 10 months. It’s been reported that Jeffery feels he’s “in the best shape since coming to the Eagles,” (via Jeff McLane). Another avenue to explore is the possibility of moving Alshon Jeffery for literally anything. Rumors have been quiet but they are there. I don’t foresee a trade occurring but anything is possible.
In the end, there is no way you can justify sitting Travis Fulgham for veterans who’ve barley been active this season. Also, there’s no way the Eagles coaching staff can justify sitting rookie first round pick, Jalen Reagor for DeSean Jackson at Z, when Jackson has repeatedly shown how unreliable he is. A big factor in determining the way this room will ultimately shakeout is trust. The keys to a healthy QB-WR relationship are confidence and chemistry. That chemistry is accelerated when the QB trusts his targets. Specifically, how much trust and confidence the QB has in his targets. How much confidence and trust he has in his targets to run the correct routes and catch the passes he throws. And it’s clear which players Carson Wentz trusts. Carson Wentz has shown unwavering trust in 3 receivers: Reagor (week one on the 2 deep shots), Fulgham (the entire Pittsburgh game) and Greg Ward throughout the season. For JJ Arcega-Whiteside, I honestly think his time has run out on the active roster. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. At some point you (Howie Roseman) have to be honest and look at the pick without rose tinted glasses. You have to ask the questions of: 1) What has this player shown me to warrant him having a roster spot, 2) Does he deserve a roster spot over any of the players in the room, and 3) In the veteran’s absence, what has he shown? In all, I don’t see any logical reason to keep Arcega-Whiteside on the active roster over any of the players listed. With the COVID practice squad rules, Arcega-Whiteside can be demoted to the practice squad if the organization doesn’t want to lose him. For the two veterans, I think the offensive coaching staff will have to be selective when they choose to utilize them. Jeffery should primarily be used in the redzone and in short yardage situations. Jackson’s situation is a bit more murky due to his primary skill being his deep speed, an applicable way to use him could be in specific packages, such as when the offense goes into 12 personnel and they want to use Jackson’s deep threat ability to give opposing defenses something to think about.
Ultimately, when every player is healthy, I think the depth chart will read:
- WR1 (X): Travis Fulgham / Alshon Jeffery / Jalen Reagor
- WR2 (Z): Jalen Reagor / DeSean Jackson / John Hightower
- WR3 (Slot): Greg Ward / John Hightower / Travis Fulgham