Week 17 didn’t go as smoothly as planned for the Eagles. Neither Nick Foles nor Nate Sudfeld could guide the Eagles into a position deep enough to attempt a field goal and while penalties and inconsistencies certainly didn’t help, there was no real excuse for the complete offensive stagnation. Surprisingly, one of the lone bright spots of the week came in the way of the wide receivers…but not the names you’re thinking of.
Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith all played minimal roles in the loss to Dallas. What was on show however was an emphasis on development and depth for the Eagles at wide receiver. Because beneath he starters lay a flurry of young and hungry wideouts who were chomping at the bit for a big opportunity.
There may be no finer example of this than WVU product Shelton Gibson. Drafted with high expectations, Gibson endured a rocky training camp where he was heavily scrutinized due to his mental problems with drops and streaky showings. His preseason campaign hardly left fans purring either. With just 56 yards on 7 receptions, it became clear that the rookie needed a lot of work.
Gibson somehow made the final 53-man roster however, but has been kept on the sidelines since that day as a healthy scratch. The Eagles are loaded with depth at the position and had no real reason to force him into action. 17 weeks later, Gibson caught his first passes as an NFL player. This may seem like a small step, but for a player who was so very nearly dropped from the team in his rookie season, to bounce back and amass a pair of receptions to close out the season, it will do wonders for his confidence.
Then there’s Marcus Johnson. The former Texas Longhorn who spent his rookie season on the sidelines due to injury came out swinging this season. Under the tutelage of Mike Groh, the UDFA caught two touchdown passes and amassed 89 receiving yards during preseason and made a very firm statement. 17 weeks and 45 regular season yards later, Johnson has continued to flash in the times he was given an opportunity.
One huge third-down conversion was negated due to a penalty, but that didn’t stop Johnson catching 3 passes against Dallas and showcasing his catch-radius. One of the preseason’s biggest heroes, Johnson’s development has been on show throughout the regular season as he continued to find time on offense.
Last but not least, we witnessed yet more signs of promise from Mack Hollins. The rookie out of UNC has vowed to be more than just a special teams ace and he’s proved that all year long. Earning the nickname ‘backpack Mack’ along the way, Hollins has been one of the team’s biggest surprises. With 226 yards and a touchdown to his name, Hollins surpassed expectations during his rookie year and ended his inaugural campaign on a high, leading the team in receiving yards in week 17.
The Eagles may have fallen short of the mark against the Cowboys, but if we learned anything it’s that talent is evolving. In fact, just take last year for example. This time 12 months ago, the receivers being fielded involved Bryce Treggs, Paul Turner and Dorial Green-Beckham. While Treggs found some action in Cleveland before returning to the Eagles, it’s clear that Mike Groh is developing a strong and steady stable of young wideouts.
Three players within their first two seasons who have visibly improved from when we saw them partake in preseason action, Hollins, Gibson and Johnson have all left their handprint on the 2017 season. As the years go by, their talent will only grow under Groh as their ceilings become clearer. This isn’t a revolving door of wideout talent anymore or a group of players that were put together in a panic. The Eagles have a clear direction on the outside and the leaps in progress by all three are only a positive sign of things to come.
Mandatory Photo Credit: James D. Smith via AP