The Eagles Wide receiver unit has endured a lot of scrutiny over the last year and a half. To the amount of drops the players suffered in Chip Kelly’s final season as Eagles Head Coach to a less than stellar Summer, criticism has been frequent and fierce. But Doug Pederson’s long-term plan for the position has finally began to reveal itself..and it could see the players primed for a strong comeback season.
The Eagles were aggressive throughout free agency, acquiring T.J Graham, Reuben Randle and deep-threat Chris Givens. All three have now been released by the team, with Givens and Randle being waived during the Eagles most recent wave of cuts in the run up to today’s 75-man roster deadline.
It seems strange that the Eagles would be so quick to cut players who were yet to play a regular season game in Midnight Green..but there is a deeper purpose. A purpose that has been echoed throughout the offseason, building for the future.
Doug Pederson spoke about his decision to seemingly go younger at the position following the ten roster moves made by the team:
“A lot of times when you look at your roster as a whole and if you can build with youth and begin to sort of shape your team in a certain direction,” Pederson said, “you feel comfortable with your top three or four guys and then it all comes down to that fifth spot, particularly in that receiver room.”
With Randle, Givens and Graham out of the picture, the Eagles receiving corps is extremely youthful. With an average age of 23, the eight receivers left on the roster are all vying to secure their roster spots, but will enter the fourth week of preseason with a sense of confidence.
Pederson has always been hot on competition and encouraging his players to drive the best out of one another. Randle, Givens and Graham became ingredients to an aggressive chemical reaction as the receivers were put in a spot where if they didn’t shine, their future could be in jeopardy. The “Chip on the shoulder” undrafted rookies have certainly done that, with Paul Turner leading the team in receiving yards in two of the Eagles three preseason games so far. If that wasn’t enough to motivate the “bubble” players, the Eagles made yet another surprising low-risk, high reward trade.
Dorial Green-Beckham is the man in question. A 6’5, 237 pound receiver formerly a second round pick of the Tennessee Titans. All the Eagles gave up in order to bring in this phenomenal athlete who has been labelled with character issues, was backup Offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.
The likes of Reuben Randle and Chris Givens seemed almost invisible in preseason, but the younger, hungrier players were striving to prove a point. Both Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor seemed hungrier following the arrival of DGB, determined to make an impact and prove themselves. For Josh Huff, it was his wife who provided inspiration before his best preseason outing of the year. For Nelson Agholor, maybe it was the breath on the back of his neck that pushed him even harder en route to his average of 15 yards per reception against the Steelers.
So, who would lose out? Eventually, nobody. At a point where the reoccurring problems in the receiving corps look to be due to mentality, the Eagles gave their future the ultimate boost in confidence. Rallying behind them and cutting players like Randle who had previously been regarded as “locks” to make the roster.
At this point in time, it looks as though that most of the mistakes are mental mistakes for the Eagles receivers, something that isn’t lost on Josh Huff, who has recently began talking with a sports psychologist in order to make sure his mindset is right heading into 2016.
It’s easy to notice how the three free agent acquisitions are no longer with the team and criticize the moves themselves, but without that fuel, the fire may never have been lit. The Eagles receivers wouldn’t have had to push themselves harder or had a burning sensation down the back of their neck every game, knowing that one more poor showing could prove hugely detrimental to their 2016 season.
So, how do you inspire confidence in a group of receivers that lack it? Drop them in the deep end and watch them swim towards you. By cutting Reuben Randle who was poised for a starting role, by waiving Chris Givens, a deep threat who has slipped through the cracks and T.J Graham, Pederson has reassured the likes of Huff, Agholor and even undrafted rookies such as Marcus Johnson and Cayleb Jones that he believes in them. They are the future of the franchise and Pederson believes they put the team in the best position to win. For receivers who have been thrown to the flames for months to not only beat out Reuben Randle to a roster spot, but a role higher up the depth chart..it’s exactly the kind of motivation he needed.
With Greg Lewis in town, nurturing the unit through a turbulent offseason, the Eagles receivers seem almost primed to attack 2016 with a new level of confidence. Pederson has cemented his direction. The decision to use Josh Huff on Jet sweeps in preseason, the addition of DGB may have fueled the fire..but it’s a fire that he will ultimately help continue to burn.
Green-Beckham may have just been the final piece of the puzzle and while he may have been the outsider looking in a couple of weeks ago, he’s now the redzone Offense’s greatest asset and can help add another level to the extensive hybrid West-coast Offense.
As of right now the oldest receiver on the roster is just 24 years old. But that doesn’t mean that the team aren’t dangerous. With a new found confidence after proving themselves to Doug Pederson, there’s a cohesive chip on the shoulder..but also plenty of individual reasons so push harder than ever before. It’s that drive and ruthless will to succeed that makes the Jim Schwartz Defense so unique..and it’s an attitude making its way slowly, but surely onto the Offense.
Mandatory photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images