The 2017 Draft class was an incredible one for the Philadelphia Eagles. With production from an array of young talent, the Eagles rookies flashed plenty of potential in the team’s Super Bowl winning campaign…well, most of them. Wide receiver Shelton Gibson only featured in one game in his first year in the NFL, a week 17 shutout loss to the Dallas Cowboys. But fast forward a few months and a Lombardi Trophy win and Gibson could be propelled to a starting position, or at least a competition to earn one.
The Eagles made two magical trades within three days. Firstly, they traded wideout Marcus Johnson and a fifth round pick in exchange for three-time pro bowl pass-rusher, Michael Bennett and a seventh round pick from Seattle. On Friday, the Eagles would make even more waves, sending 2x Super Bowl champion Torrey Smith to the Panthers in exchange for Daryl Worley.
While the team have shaved some vital salary cap weight off of their bill, they have also lost two wideouts. Smith may not be a straight-up number one receiver, but his 430 yards and 2 touchdowns helped the Eagles spread the field in Pederson’s second year. In the playoffs, he came alive. With 157 yards, a TD against the Vikings and a crucial PI against the Falcons, Smith was invaluable.
Marcus Johnson meanwhile, often stepped up to the plate when the offense pushed the game out of reach. He caught 5 passes for 45 yards during the regular season and was very much Pederson’s project after catching on with the team as an undrafted free agent one year ago. A previous heir to the WR2 throne, that job is now open.
Without Smith or his arguable successor, the Eagles have two options. Two players entering their second season with the Eagles. Mack Hollins, who averaged 14.1 yards per reception, the most of any Eagles receiver, or Shelton Gibson. A West Virginia product who barely latched onto the roster after a torrid offseason.
Hollins is a big-bodied wideout who used his deep speed to burn defenses and provide the Eagles with a ‘Chris Hogan’ type injection of explosiveness in his rookie year. 226 yards and a Milly-Rockin 64-yard touchdown against the Redskins put plenty of attention on ‘backpack Mack’, but his skillset is much better suited to dominating slot matchups as has been proven during both his UNC days and his rookie year. Rotating with Nelson Agholor provides the Eagles with that explosive under-the-radar threat that makes Hollins so dangerous, which leaves Shelton Gibson as the natural next-man-up.
Gibson would be following in the path of Nelson Agholor in a lot of ways. While their rookie season’s, expectations and overall skillset are completely different, the mental struggles faced in adapting to the NFL are the same. Without much depth, Agholor was forced onto the field as a first-round pick to be the number one threat he was drafted to be, or at least that was the aim. As a later-round selection, Gibson didn’t have that weight on his shoulders, but his offseason was just as turbulent.
From drops and setbacks to a disappointing preseason, Gibson flashed at times and was nearly invisible in others. But the Eagles were in a position of luxury. They didn’t have to force Gibson into the front lines and could instead let the fifth round pick who ranked 4th in the nation with 22.1 yards per reception in 2016 develop.
“When we drafted these guys, we knew that they were rookies [and] they were a work-in-progress.” Howie Roseman said at the dawn of the 2017 season. “We knew that if Shelton went back to school and didn’t come out early, he’s probably drafted higher and that we were going to have to spend time to develop him and his skill set. And he does have a trait. He had more 50-yard receptions than anyone in college football last year. He can take the top off. Consistency for a rookie is, obviously, something that sometimes takes some time. But he works really hard. He has the traits we’re looking for to develop into a player.
Now, obviously, we’re going to spend the time trying to develop that. I think it’s important for us when we make these decisions, we’re talking about the 46, the 53 and then the 63. We want to make sure our coaches have the best 46 guys that they need to go into Washington. And then from there, there are also guys that we want to develop. [There are guys] that we want to sit there a year from now and hope that they have taken another step.”
The 5’11, 190 lbs, Cleveland, Ohio native, was an issue for opposing defenses at West Virginia, playing in both the slot as well as from the outside. The rapid wideout ranked first in touchdown receptions (17) of all wideouts with at least 20.0 yards per catch in 2015-16.
Named a healthy scratch for most of the season, The spotlight evaded Gibson until week 17 where he caught a pair of passes for a total of 11 yards. Gibson was active in five games during his rookie year and will need a strong offseason if he is to change his stars in a receiving corps flooded by talent and production. Luckily for him, the stars may be aligning themselves.
With a lack of starting wide receiver depth outside of Jeffery and Agholor, Gibson has a second chance to separate himself from the rest of the competition, including names like Bryce Treggs. The team could be set to re-enforce the position over the coming months, through a trade, signing a free agent or through the draft, but Gibson was signed for this very situation.
With a year to develop under Mike Groh…and that in itself is more than noteworthy. Much has been said about the newly promoted offensive coordinator and it’s not difficult to see why. Whether it was helping Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery excel in Chicago, pushing Kenny Britt to his first 1,000 yard season with the Rams or being key cog in the ever dominant wheel of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Groh has succeeded wherever he’s coached. This season is no exception.
Despite the team not registering a 1,000 yard receiver, the Eagles wideouts were the most dominant they’ve looked in years due to a culture shift that focuses on selflessness. This may give Gibson the confidence needed to thrive in an environment where he’s been able to learn under not only Groh, but a true number one wideout in Alshon Jeffery and someone who has gone through something similar in Nelson Agholor.
There’s a long way to go between now and the beginning of next season and a lot can change. But as things currently stand, there could be one more underdog set to be unleashed into Doug Pederson’s offense and his name is Shelton Gibson.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports