We’re a mere two days away from the commencing of Eagles Training Camp and with speculation and excitement levels beginning to soar as high as the Birds did back in February, it’s surprising that the battle at wide receiver hasn’t attracted more attention. The Eagles adopted a new selfless mentality last year that saw a ‘Golden State’ type of ego embedded into the team. While Carson Wentz and Nick Foles ripped defenses to shreds, just two wide receivers managed to amass a 100-yard game. The reason was nothing more than optionality. Spreading the ball around created problem after problem for opposing defenses and it will again in 2018, only this time, things may be a little different.
The huge X-factor coming into Training Camp is that there’s no Alshon Jeffery, who is recovering from a shoulder injury that was plaguing him all season long. It’s staggering to think that the number one wideout played the entire year with this nagging setback, but ensuring full health for week one is now a priority, which means everything will get shuffled around a little.
A battle at the second wide receiver spot was always going to ensue once Torrey Smith was traded to the Carolina Panthers. Mike Wallace was brought in to replace Smith and from a very early viewpoint, looks to be a suitable replacement. The veteran is coming off of an eight game stretch in which re caught 36 passes for 500 yards and 3 scores. Not only that, but the speedster is one of only 10 active NFL players with 8,000 career receiving yards and 500 career receptions.
With Alshon Jeffery out of the equation, this will be the man who will more than likely take WR1 snaps. Nelson Agholor remains the team’s lethal slot receiver after a 2018 breakout like no other, which means the WR2 battle gives the opportunity of consistent first-team reps to names who wouldn’t usually be punching at that weight limit.
One of these names is former Steelers receiver 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. There may be no bigger window of opportunity that presents itself to Wheaton, who will be looking to rekindle the fire in his NFL career.
Then, you have the likes of Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins, who enter their second NFL season with high hopes. ‘Backpack Mack’ will be looking to build on his 226 yard rookie season and could benefit from some elevated Training Camp snaps as a result. The deep-threat who is out to prove he’s much more than a perennial special teamer is already well on his way to doing just that, showcasing the ‘Chris Hogan’ effect during his rookie year. If Hollins can continue develop and sneak onto the field when defenses least expect it, he could be poised for an even bigger impact.
For Shelton Gibson meanwhile, this year is all about redemption. Coming out of college, Gibson looked like the deep-threat that the Eagles have long been craving. In 32 games, he had 1,898 yards, averaging 22.6 yards per catch.,.and just for good measure, 17 trips to the endzone. Of the 29 times he was targeted deep during his final collegiate season, 17 were labelled catchable and he hauled in every single one for a total of 726 yards.
It would be shocking then that Gibson seemed to hit a wall during Training Camp, struggling to make simple receptions and struggling throughout. This resulted in a ‘redshirt’ year that kept him sidelined until week 17 against the Cowboys, where there were some signs of promise. Like Agholor before him, Gibson will be coming into this year hungrier than ever to prove people wrong and he has all the ammunition and increased exposure to first team offense to do so. He will also be helped by a new coach.
Former UNC wide receiver’s coach is leading the charge. Gunter Brewer, who has previously worked with the likes of Dez Bryant and Randy Moss, replaced Mike Grow as the team’s WR coach and already has his players working through some new drills designed to keep bodies compact and the ball shielded.
What’s scary is that even beyond those names, who are all theoretically competing for the same role, is that there’s even more players built in the same vein. Names such as Bryce Treggs, returns ace Tim Wilson, former QB Greg Ward and a resurgent former ChicagoBear in Marquess Wilson. There always seems to be one pleasant surprise when it comes to Eagles wide receiver battles and with rotation set to play more of a role than ever before, we could be looking at a player making a much bigger impact than the preseason performances that win the hearts of fans everywhere. While Paul Turner and Rasheed Bailey became somewhat Eagles favorites very quickly, the players filling those boots this year have their eyes set on not just a depth role, but snatching that starting role from atop the totem pole.
Who said the Super Bowl champions have a complete roster and are primed for a boring offseason? This battle could be the most electric wideout battle we’ve seen in years.