Last seasons narrative when talking about the Eagles wideout core, was usually one of negativity and despair. Charged with the task of making something out of nothing, QB Carson Wentz spent a lot of time having to force the occasion as his wideouts struggled to gain separation. The reliance on inclusion of the tight ends and an inconsistent run game would eventually magnify the issue, and hurt the offense.
Needless to say, Howie Roseman, knew exactly what he needed to do going into the 2017 offseason. Task number one needed to be finding WR help to surround their young franchise signal-caller. Mission accomplished (For now), as the birds brass added star wideout Alshon Jefferey and veteran speedster Torrey Smith. Alshon came as the prize at the bottom of the cereal box, as he was considered the best player available during free-agency, while Torrey Smith is already proving to be more than just a consolation prize himself.
The Eagles didn’t stop there. When the draft came around, they decided to add two more receivers by way of Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. Both players have been signed for their impressive skill sets. Gibson as a deep threat and special teams return man, and Hollins as a big bodied red zone threat who can move the sticks. Needless to say, both of them will get their opportunities to show what they are capable of at the next level.
The question is though, after the core of players expected to make the team (Jefferey, Smith, Gibson, Matthews, Hollins, and Agholor) would there be room for another guy on the squad? When going over the roster, one name that really sticks out is WR Marcus Johnson. The 6’1, 207 lbs, prospect, is more grinder than flash.
Blessed with the capability to go deep due to his impressive speed, Johnson separates well on top of routes and is able to use his body well to positon himself for a 50-50 ball. Built thicker than his frame would suggest, Johnson, has also shown a willingness to catch passes in traffic and challenge defenders at any level.
At the University of Texas, Johnson wasn’t used as much as he would have liked, but when looking through his 61 receptions for 793 yards, and 4 touchdowns over his four year career, you see a player that made use of the opportunities presented. Something that stood out to me, was the amount of times he was overlooked while he was wide open. On more than one occasion, you can see him and other wideouts, being the victim of bad quarterback play. Not too make any excuses, but it is hard to catch passes when your QB is laying on his back.
Last season, Johnson came on board as an UDFA and from day one was turning heads. An unfortunate injury sidelined the deep-threat during Training Camp, cutting his rookie campaign off before it had a chance to start. However, Johnson did enough to remain on the teams practice squad…and it wasn’t just the coaches he impressed.
Veteran TE Trey Burton spoke briefly about his first time watching him run.
“Yeah, the kid got some speed.” Burton said. “Watching him run, watching him out there, you see how smooth he looks. How well he got in and out of breaks, he just needs some work, we all do. No one is perfect, but when you see him play you can tell he has something to him.”
Johnson, does need work and luckily for him, he is in a place where he will get that. New WR coach, Mike Groh, is something of a receiving guru as he helped push wideouts such as Alshon Jeffery and Kenny Britt into having their best career years. Marcus has all the tools to be a contributor in the NFL and has the right mind set, going out there to get the job done.
“I know what I am facing, I understand the uphill battle… that’s not going to faze me, I know what I can do.” Johnson explained. “I know that I can play this game at a very high level. I have what it takes, I just need to refine it and get a better product out there. last year was a heck of a time to learn, and guys like Jordan and Alshon, those guys are great to have around. I got great teammates, great coaches… I’m in a great place to be successful. We are building something special on this team, and I am proud to be a part of it.”
The Eagles are in such a better place compared to where they were last year when discussing the WR’s they house. There is tons of talent on the roster from top to bottom, and the wideout core could arguably be the most improved situation this year. How it shakes out after Alshon, Torrey, and Jordan, is anyones guess, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t bet against Marcus Johnson.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports