It’s been a long offseason for the Eagles wide receiver room. What started with a changing of the guard once again at the WR coach position rapidly turned into months of complete rejuvenation. The trading of Jordan Matthews threw a late spanner in the works of an offseason that built a reputation as transformational but with the starting trio all but set, it comes down to the final preseason game to decide how the rest of the depth chart will shake out and shape up.
A slew of undrafted free agents from this offseason and the last have strived to make an impact on the Eagles coaching staff and have largely succeeded. By now we have all heard the tales of Greg Ward Jr, Marcus Johnson and even a resurgence from Bryce Treggs. But the Eagles only have so many slices of Cake to cut and seven wideouts all vying for a slice.
“It’s hard to say. One day, one guy flashes. This is, without a doubt, the best group that I’ve been around for a while.” Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich told the media. “I mean, from top to bottom, very competitive. They’ve all flashed. They all deserve to be here. I believe some of these guys, for a couple guys who might not be here, I think they’re going to end up someplace else. That’s how confident we feel in this group.”
Landing elsewhere may be a possibility that the Eagles will have to face when it comes to many of their wideouts. It’s not that they are ineligible or any other reason than the fact that the team have seen a flurry of preseason and training camp breakouts that are sure to draw attention from around the league. Whether it be the falling stock of deep-threat Shelton Gibson, the big-play potential of former Houston QB Greg Ward Jr, or the seven-catch, 91 yard performance from Bryce Treggs just a few short weeks ago. The Eagles are going to be faced with some very tough decisions and there’s no guarantee that the wideouts waived will fall back into their laps when it comes to assembling the practice squad.
“It’s tight. It’s very tight. It’s always tight.” Reich said. “When it comes down to those last roster spots, coach always emphasizes that it’s not only what they do as receiver, but what they do on special teams, and how they can contribute. Position versatility and special teams, all those things factor into the roster.”
“As we all know, it’s complicated and there are lots of moving parts. You don’t make up your mind – you set the table, but you don’t really start digging in until you have to. You got to have the patience to wait it out and see how everything plays out.”
It’s not just losing potential that the Eagles are wary of. As things stand, just about every roster spot beyond the starting trio of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith is up for grabs. The Eagles released their fourth and final unofficial depth chart earlier today, shedding some insight as to how things are looking ahead of the preseason finale on Thursday night.
As things stand, training camp darling Mack Hollins will inherit the backup role to Torrey Smith while fellow draftee Shelton Gibson is stuck behind last year’s UDFA Marcus Johnson, who has simply flourished during the offseason and shown the same route-running and explosive prowess he did just twelve months ago before a season ending injury saw the hopes of sticking to the roster dwindle.
Gibson has had a tumultuous offseason since arriving in Philadelphia, one filled with drops, inconsistency and the occasional flash of speed and big-play ability. There’s every chance that the Eagles decide against keeping Gibson on the final 53 and instead try to assign him to the scout team, but would another team in a position not too dissimilar to that which the Eagles were in this time one year ago take a gamble?
Perhaps the most intriguing battle is in the slot. Bryce Treggs has 8 receptions for 100 yards during preseason so far after freeing himself from the chains that anchored him down during his rookie year with the Eagles. Behind him sit a receiver who has consistently impressed the Eagles coaching staff, and last year’s preseason darling who went on to have a significant impact towards the end of last season.
There’s no way that the Eagles keep ten receivers on the roster, or even close. Between 5-7 is where we can most likely expect that number to fall, but who those receivers will be beyond the starters is as much of a mystery as it was six months ago. With Jordan Matthews traded to Buffalo, the direction certainly became prominent…but there’s a lot left to be decided. When asked if the departure of Matthews has enhanced competition, Frank Reich answered clearly.
“Jordan leaving, has certainly — if I’m in that room, and I’m one of those players, yeah, you have to believe that. I think those guys attack practice with a lot of juice every day. I have no doubt that’s going through their minds.”
So here we are. Just one preseason game remaining and six receivers fighting over what could be as few as two/three roster spots. It’s all or nothing. With such a talented group of players, there’s no doubting that other teams will be looking to swipe some of the waived receiving potential away from the Eagles. The question is, which of the wideouts remaining on the roster will make it past the final hurdle? Who can shine in a game almost exclusively designed for these situations? Just as we thought we had reached the end of Eagles wide receiver drama for a year, we made a critical mistake in forgetting about the wideouts for whom every snap could be the difference between a roster spot, a place on the practice squad or a journey elsewhere.
Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via USA TODAY Sports