The Eagles offense was stacked last season and just about every metric possible saw a meteoric rise as a result. Whether it was the incredible season of Carson Wentz or the highly efficient third-down offense, the Eagles fired on all cylinders and a lot of that was down to their new flurry of outside talent. Alshon Jeffery was joined by veteran Torrey Smith, giving the Eagles a dominant number one wideout and a receiver who can spread the field. It helped that Nelson Agholor would gather the third most slot yards of any receiver in the league, breaking out in true underdog fashion, but the revamped receiving corps put on explosive displays week in and week out. The aim will be to repeat that success in 2018, but there isn’t so much certainty around the wideouts who will be lining up.
Torrey Smith became a fan favorite very quickly, but his play was inconsistent during his lone season with the Eagles. Receiving for 430 yards, Smith was susceptible to drops and in his own words, battled through the worst stint of his career. He came out swinging when it mattered, making key receptions in the postseason, but it’s safe to say that the Birds could do with some more reliability from their deep threat.
The Eagles signed 31-year old Mike Wallace to replace Torrey Smith, who was traded to the Panthers earlier in the offseason, replacing pound-for-pound what they were losing in the speedster. Many deemed that to be the end of the debate. Mike Wallace would replace Smith and all would once again be Sunny in Philadelphia.
But this is Howie Roseman…and this is Doug Pederson. If there’s one thing we’ve come to expect from Howie, it’s the unexpected. From Doug? Competition breeds excellence. The Eagles went on to sign former Steelers and Bears wideout, Markus Wheaton.
The 5’11, 189 lbs, wide receiver is coming off of two very difficult, injury plagued seasons. After playing 3 games in his final season with the Steelers, Wheaton signed a two-year, $11 million deal that included $6 million guaranteed, with the Chicago Bears. But after an emergency appendectomy, a broken finger in training camp and a groin injury in the regular season, Wheaton caught just 3 of 17 targets for 51 yards in the 11 games he did play. Now, looking for a career resurgence in the City of Brotherly Love, Wheaton will have to be looking over his shoulder at all times with one of only 10 active NFL players with 8,000 career receiving yards and 500 career receptions breathing down his neck.
It’s not just the big dogs to worry about either. Mack Hollins could well be a factor here too, but he’s more suited to the slot, backing up Nelson Agholor and causing complete mismatches with OLB’s and safeties. Shelton Gibson meanwhile will be vying to force his way into the mix after his rookie season fell to pieces following an offseason of inconsistency. The WVU product again however, fits this same mold. The Eagles have developed an affliction for developing younger talent behind veterans until they are one day ready to take over the reins. Gibson could be the perfect piece for this plan and while it’s a tiny sample size so early in the proceedings, Gibson did more than just turn a few heads on the opening day of OTA’s.
The 5’11, 190 lbs, Cleveland, Ohio native, was an issue for opposing defenses at West Virginia, playing in both the slot as well as from the outside. The rapid wideout ended his collegiate career with 84 receptions, 1,898 yards and a whopping 17 touchdowns, all while averaging 22.6 yards per reception. Considered a one trick pony by some, Gibson took that one trick to another level at times. A threat to score from anywhere on the field defenses spent a lot of time with one eye on the offense and the other solely on him. Despite being considered a deep threat, Gibson adds value all over the field and that’s exactly what new WR coach Gunter Brewer will try to extract from him as the offseason progresses.
The contenders make the competition, but what makes it so important is the fact that Alshon Jeffery will likely miss most of Training Camp, if not all of it. The explosive wideout underwent shoulder surgery earlier this year after somehow playing through the entire regular and postseason campaigns with the injury. Needless to say, Doug Pederson will be aiming to relieve as much pressure from Jeffery’s shoulders as possible, which opens a huge window of opportunity for the aforementioned wideouts.
This means that throughout Training Camp and preseason, candidates for the WR2 spot will have a chance to compete as the number one receiver. Two potential starters will both be fighting for that very label throughout the Summer and rotation will be heavy due to the absence of Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles will likely go 5-6 receivers deep this year and with first-team reps being plentiful, we can expect a fully fledged war between the likes of Mike Wallace and Markus Wheaton, or Shelton Gibson and a wildcard such as Marquess Wilson.
The Eagles need to figure out who will be their designated WR2 this season or whether or not it will be a committee effort, which as this point is just as likely. However, with an exposure to first team reps throughout the offseason, we can expect plenty of rotation, surprises and competitiveness. Every snap is so, so valuable. For Mike Wallace, it could be his last chance at a longer-term deal and for very different reasons, that same logic applies to the injury plagued Markus Wheaton. Shelton Gibson is still trying to find the launchpad for his career and the rest of the pack is as hungry as ever.
Gunter Brewer will have his hands full as this battle continues, but with so many names all chomping at the bit for their taste of first-team action, this could be one of the most important positional battles of all.