Philadelphia Eagles training camp is nearly here! Players are scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex on July 26 ahead of the first practice on July 27. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles’ roster. We continue today by taking a look at the wide receiver position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back.
Everyone is super hypod about AJ Brown. And rightfully so! He’s proven himself as one of the top NFL players at his position.
But is he definitely the best wide receiver on the Eagles’ roster? In terms of established production, you have to give him the node right now. But do not discount the possibility of Smith being viewed as the 1A to Brown’s 1B by the end of the season.
Smith was criminally underutilized as a rookie; that there were 37 players targeted more often than he was nonsensical. Of course, it didn’t help that the Eagles had the lowest passing play percentage in the NFL. Running the ball was effective for them (especially against lesser teams) but, in the bigger picture, it limited their opportunities to get the ball in the hands of one of their very best players.
One would hope the Eagles have learned from not targeting Smith enough. He should benefit from an offense that figures to pass the ball more often (though to what extent exactly is unclear).
Smith should also benefit from a more developed rapport with Jalen Hurts. The two were certainly clicking in the one media-attended OTA practice they both participated in.
With Brown in the fold, teams won’t be able to always assign their top cornerback to covering Smith. Or, if they do, they’ll live with Brown lined up on a CB2.
On the other hand, the downside to Brown entering the equation is that it could limit Smith’s opportunities for volume. Be it cliche, there are multiple mouths to feed and only one ball to go around.
Still. the thinking here is that Smith is flying a bit under the radar with all of the attention on Brown. We’ll just say that one would be remiss to sleep on the Eagles’ 2021 first-round pick as he enters Year 2. Don’t be surprised if/when he outproduces Brown. And that’s no slight to the newcomer.
Annually ranking as one of the top receivers in yards per route run with Tennnesee, Brown is a very efficient target. And he produced pretty good volume despite the Titans utilizing such a run-heavy offense powered by Derrick Henry.
Brown is a man amongst boys. He brings a physicality to the Eagles’ receiving corps that they lacked. He adds value as someone who can fight for the ball in the air and run through tackles after the catch. Brown’s ability to make big plays as a downfield threat shouldn’t be overlooked by any means, either.
In theory, the Eagles adding Brown should help Hurts reach the next level as a quarterback. That they’re friendly off the field would make one think it shouldn’t be hard to form an on-field chemistry. That much bears watching, though. Hurts targeted the field less than any quarterback in 2021 (just 10% of the time, according to Football Outsiders) and that’s where 60% of Brown’s targets came from. Perhaps Brown will unlock Hurts’ deficiency in that area. If not, well, Brown would be underutilized in a key area.
This connection will be worth monitoring in camp. Brown and Hurts weren’t exactly on the same page during their one media-attended OTA practice together. There could be some kinks to iron out yet.
Watkins isn’t going to be a volume target with Smith and Brown ahead of him. That hardly means he isn’t important to the offense, however. Watkins figures to see playing time in the slot. Though mostly thought of as a field-stretcher, which he is, he’s perhaps more well-rounded than he truly gets credit for. Watkins has demonstrated jump ball ability and run after the catch potential as well.
Efficiency is the name of the game for Watkins. The Eagles need to be able to turn to him for completions deep down the field. His ability to scorch a secondary should help to open up opportunities underneath for his teammates.
I wouldn’t be so sure that Pascal is merely the fourth option behind a top trio of Smith, Brown, and Watkins. There’s a reasonable chance Pascal actually sees more targets and/or snaps. The thinking here is that Watkins and Pascal might be 3A and 3B options behind the top two players at their position. Watkins is a field-stretching slot while Pascal is a big slot who could see more opportunities in the red zone and short-yardage situations.
It was a rough go for Pascal in Indy last year but he wasn’t exactly playing with a quarterback known to maximize his wide receivers. Now, one could say the same for Hurts. But the thought is that Pascal can be effective as a role player in certain situations. At the very least, he should represent a souped-up version of last year’s JJAW role. And by that I mean a strong blocking receiver who isn’t basically a non-threat as a pass-catcher.
People will often bring up how it doesn’t make sense to cut reagor because it’ll actually cause the team to lose cap space. The argument here is that the team should find a way to trade Reagor for literally anything so they can clear $13K in cap space instead of taking a loss. Assuming that option isn’t available to them, since Regor isn’t exactly desirable, they should still be willing to cut a player who’s struggled as badly as he has. And not only struggled… but has given less than full effort on a number of occasions. Unless Reagor truly looks like a different player in training camp, which isn’t easy to expect, it’s hard to keep him on the team and claim the team is operating a meritocracy. What role is Reagor even going to play if he’s WR5? He’s not providing value as a returner or a special teams coverage dude. It’s just not a good use of a roster spot.
The Eagles liked G-Ward as a red zone specialist last year. With Pascal in the fold, though, he’s probably been replaced in that regard. Ward is currently relegated to being a backup in the slot and a sure-handed but nonthreatening punt returner.
Hightower had a really good camp as a rookie, stunk in the regular season, didn’t look good in camp last year as he dealt with injury issues, and then spent most of the 2021 campaign on the practice squad. The Eagles used a number of practice squad protections on him, indicating they still valued his potential. Hightower did have some good moments in OTAs this spring so maybe he’s not without hope? No one should be holding their breath but he’ll have one last summer to make the case for himself.
Cain was surprisingly effective in OTA practices. He has a couple factors working in his favor: 1) he boasts some NFL production (albeit nine catches for 124 yards) and 2) he has experience in Nick Sirianni’s system. If Cain can also stand out on special teams, he could find a way to snag a roster spot.
At 5’8”, 173 pounds, size might be an issue for Covey. He didn’t stand out as a receiver during OTAs. Covey will need to pop more in training camp and the preseason games. His returning ability could give him a better path to a roster spot than his competitors. Covey could conceivably be the Eagles’ punt returner this season since that spot is unsettled.
Allen is an interesting story given his layoff from football and his success as a hurdles star (when he’s not getting totally screwed by dumb rules, that is). Can a guy who hasn’t caught a pass in a game since 2016 do enough this summer to convince the Eagles to use a roster spot on him? Would he be willing to stick around on the practice squad?
Hammond is a long shot to make the roster.
The Eagles signed Wheatfall after inviting him to rookie minicamp as a tryout player. So, they liked something they saw. But the UDFA is a long shot to make the roster.
Smith and Brown will lead all receivers at targets. It remains to be seen if there’s a clear No. 1 option over the other or if the gap is close as 1A and 1B.
Watkins and Pascal are the only other locks to make the roster. They’ll be role players.
Reagor shouldn’t make the team but watch him stick around anyway.
Ward, Hightower, Cain, and Covey are likely battling it out for one roster spot.
Hammond and Wheatfall project as camp body types.
Reagor being cut or traded would be more notable than surprising.
Ward shouldn’t be considered a roster lock. The Eagles opted not to tender him as a restricted free agent and only brought him back on a one-year, $1 million deal that isn’t guaranteed. There are a number of receivers competing with him for a fifth or sixth roster spot.