It’s only been a few days since the Eagles shockingly traded away Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for some secondary support, but the weight of the move among former teammates and fans is still heavy. The more pressing matter for the Eagles however is simply the question of “Who’s next?”. While Nelson Agholor has been bumped up to the starter over the middle, Bryce Treggs, Greg Ward Jr. and Paul Turner are also listed at the WR3 position. But there’s one name we shouldn’t rule out from the committee equation. Trey Burton.
The chemistry between Wentz and Matthews was synonymous with the Eagles last year. From the moment the two turned up to OTA’s early, to the handshakes, touchdowns and sheer abundance of targets. Wentz found solace and confidence in Jordan Matthews, but with Zach Ertz injured at the beginning of the season, there was one other target he struck that same chord with.
Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Carson Wentz was still listed as the team’s third quarterback, thus he prepared as such. Through OTA’s and Training Camp, the former North Dakota State signal-caller worked closely with Burton, which eventually led to a training camp breakout from the versatile Florida product. That familiarity with timing and trust transpired into the regular season, where Burton went on to receive for his first receiving touchdown and 327 yards.
As aforementioned, it was that year where Burton really made his mark. After a tough loss to the Bengals, the Eagles receiving corps was low on both depth and production, forcing Pederson to lean on his tight ends. While Ertz received for two scores and over 300 yards in the two games prior, Burton added some great depth, contributing 218 yards on 22 receptions on the year until that point, as well as averaging 0.3 yards per reception than Ertz at that stage and ranking above both his TE teammate and Dorial Green-Beckham in the longest catch category.
The signs of Burton emerging as a reliable receiver were present before the 2016 season however. He received four targets in 2015 including an explosive play against the Lions. But even before that, Burton had an impressive pre-season game against the Packers in which he caught two touchdowns…showcasing his potential as a wide receiver in the making. Interestingly, the Florida star also played as a Wide Receiver back in 2013, receiving for over 400 yards and a touchdown with the Gators. So the question is, could Trey Burton help fill the void left by Jordan Matthews?
“Yeah, I think some of the things that Jordan [did] in there, Trey can fill that role.” Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich told the media after the team’s last practice before the preseason showdown with Buffalo. “I think Mack [WR Mack Hollins] can fill that role in some other spots and we’ll see who else can step up in that role. But Trey definite proved last year that he’s a playmaker. Trey, if you asked Carson, Carson has a lot of trust and confidence in Trey. He wants him in the game; he likes when he’s in the game. Trey is a great route runner. He’s a very instinctive player and he’s got that mix of size and just enough speed. He’s not huge, but he’s big enough. He’s not lightning fast, but he’s pretty fast, and he’s very instinctive and a good route runner.”
The confidence that Wentz has in Burton was reiterated by the quarterback himself as well as his offensive coordinator.
Wentz says he wants Trey Burton on the field because he’s reliable, versatile, smart. Has a lot of trust in him. #Eagles
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) August 15, 2017
If it’s continuity the Eagles seek, inserting Burton into the game makes a lot of sense. As the receiving corps and tight ends stand, Wentz has 175 targets to the current starting rotation. 106 to Ertz and 69 to Agholor, that’s it. Matthews had 117 alone last year, being targeted more than any other receiving option. Trey Burton, a third-string tight end, was targeted 60 times. Burton’s presence carries weight.
Talking of weight, if you compare receivers who have taken reps in the slot prior to arriving in Philadelphia, or those who are emerging as top options at the position as we speak, Burton hardly looks out of place physically.
For Burton, an opportunity to contribute as a slot receiver at times could be the difference between a future in Philadelphia and one away from it. The tight end was signed to a one-year tender this offseason, meaning it’s free agency time once again after the season ends, and with a slew of free agents including Alshon Jeffery and LeGarrette Blount to potentially extend, Burton needs all the ammo he can find.
To make things even more interesting, Shepherd TE Billy Brown has proven to be a reliable target during the offseason as a fourth tight end. If Brown makes the roster, Burton moving into the slot opens up even more opportunities for Pederson when it comes to tight end groupings and how much he can do with the unit.
Only time will tell, but if Burton can shine in preseason once again, this may finally be the year in which he emerges as a receiver who could contribute in the slot. Be it occasionally or regularly, Burton has to establish himself in that grouping to have a shot at increasing his role in an offense where there are so many slices of cake already cut.
Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports