If there’s one thing we’ve grown excited for when preseason rolls around, it’s the receiving heroes. The wideouts who start at the bottom of the depth chart and see a heavy workload during those four games as a result, with their NFL futures depending on their performance. First it was Rasheed Bailey, and then came Paul Turner. But the question is, who’s next?
It was only one year ago that Louisiana Tech standout Paul Turner embarked on his preseason quest. Catching 17 passes (Most in the NFL) for 165 yards, his biggest game came in the pre-season finale against the Jets. Turner would turn in a 6 catch performance for 66 yards and added a 71 yard punt return for good measure. Games like this, and highlights like the one handed catch he had against the Pittsburgh Steelers helped secure his role in a very crowded WR corps.
One season later and the picture is similar in some ways but contrastingly different in others. With Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith likely solidifying starting roles on the outside, it’s open season for the depth spots behind them and as we now all know, the entire slot rotation. While Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor battle it out at the top, the rest of the receivers are chomping at the bit to get their opportunity.
So how do we find the next preseason standout. Well naturally, we watch the games and see who shines…but there are some key traits we can take note of beforehand so we know who and what to look out for.
It sounds simple, but there’s a reason why Turner and Bailey both shined while going undrafted. The four preseason games are designed to get the best out of everyone and end the battles raging at every roster spot. From starters to practice squad, everything is up for grabs. However, teams tend to keep their veterans and starters limited during preseason in order to avoid suffering heartbreaking injuries on the cusp of the regular season (CC: Jordy Nelson).
This means that undrafted rookies or players toward the bottom of the depth chart usually see a huge portion of playing time; the perfect proving ground to build on a strong camp, or transform their fortunes if they’ve struggled. So, if we’re to follow the template of undrafted rookie wideouts…it leaves us with the following candidates:
Greg Ward Jr.
Just because you receive a bulk of playing time, it doesn’t mean you’ll make the most of them. A lot of being able to shine in the light is having a quarterback you’ve built a rapport with. Carson Wentz will be limited to just 12 snaps against the Packers, and with Nick Foles suffering with elbow soreness, it opens the door for both McGloin and Dane Evans to take most of the snaps against Green bay,
Marcus Johnson could be the prime candidate to be a receiving standout, but many of his reps have came with Wentz, Foles and McGloin after an incredibly strong camp. His impressive offseason may also mean he doesn’t see as much action as guys who are closer to the bubble. This may not be true, but it could hold some weight.
Greg Ward Jr, Bryce Treggs, and David Watford have all flashed during Training Camp and due to working with McGloin and Evans a little more closely, may have a rapport that translates onto the field during the opening preseason game. Marcus Johnson has been simply stunning so far and it’s likely he turns a lot of heads during preseason…but his form wouldn’t be as surprising as someone such as Watford or Ward Jr.
Strike while the Iron is hot:
Paul Turner, Trey Burton, and Rasheed Bailey all had brilliant Training Camps prior to their preseason breakouts. So who fits that mold of the current group of wideouts most?
Greg Ward Jr has impressed at every turn. The former quarterback has not only embraced the transition to WR, but has bought a natural understanding of timing and route concepts to the table. His athletic ability has been on full display and we can expect to see a strong preseason from the former University of Houston signal-caller.
Fellow former QB David Watford has also had an impressive camp, but like Bryce Treggs has seem some amazingly promising days, along with some quieter performances.
Then, there is of course Marcus Johnson…a name on the lips of many fans ahead of preseason. Training camp started perfectly for the former Texas receiver last year, but after missing a lot of preseason action due to a quad injury really hurt his stock in what was then a crowded position. Johnson is keen to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
With catches in 42 games at Texas for a total of 793 yards at college, Johnson was an impact player..but he failed to separate himself from the likes of Paul Turner and Cayleb Jones in preseason. This year has been a very different story. Johnson has been a huge surprise this offseason after sticking to the Eagles practice squad, but can he build on that just as Turner and Bailey did before them?
This is war
There are only so many spots up for grabs which means every snap counts. Every route matters and every big reception will be praised while every drop damaging. Who can strive under pressure and perform when others struggle to? Preseason is going to be an incredibly fun period to watch for Eagles fans…but for the players, it’s do or die.
Who do you think will be this year’s preseason darling? Let us know in the comments!
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports