They say that every cloud has a silver lining. Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks presented a storm so dark and dismal that it made spotting that glimpse of light incredibly difficult. But alas, there was one…and it came from an unlikely place.
The Eagles were without a single starting wide receiver against Seattle. No Jeffery, no Jackson, no Agholor. The depth chart was down to its bare bones and the Eagles were forced to call up someone from the practice squad.
Greg Ward Jr. was the man chosen by the coaching staff and it’s not hard to see why. Over three preseasons with the Eagles, Ward has caught 19 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. At 5’11, 190 lbs, he was likely to sink into slot duties, but brought physicality during the route stem and an ability to grab balls out of the air that expanded that role.
The former Houston QB was targeted 7 times, catching 6 passes for 40 yards. This may not sound like the most stunning stat-line of all time, but given how woeful the receiving corps has been this season, it’s impressive that a practice squad promotee can instantly make an impact that receivers who snuck onto the roster above him, have failed to do in 11 games.
“He’s been working with our starters just because of the injuries we’ve had at the receiver position, so he’s been getting a lot of time in practice with our starters.” Head Coach Doug Pederson said after the game. “His role was about what it should have been had he — if he was more of an active player for us on the active [roster]. I thought he did some really nice things for us and something to evaluate tomorrow when we look at the tape.”
It’s not yet clear when we can expect to see Nelson Agholor or Alshon Jeffery back in the fray, but there is absolutely a case to keep Ward Jr. around so long as he continues to make plays. Older receivers above him on the depth chart such as Jordan Matthews and Mack Hollins were unable to come close to the receiving production Ward manufactured and he somehow recorded more yards in one game than Hollins has in over a month.
The journey from being a dynamic quarterback to a wide receiver consistently on the edge of making the cut, only to be denied, has finally hit a new chapter. Ward’s experience in the AAF where he amassed 22 catches for 214 yards helped elevate his game enough to push him onto the Eagles practice squad, and eventually onto the 53-man roster in his third year of trying.
Familiar with the playbook, the team, and the coaches, Ward has been around the NovaCare Complex for quite some time now, chomping at the bit for his opportunity. Even in a scenario where the injured wideouts return next week, Ward Jr. brings more to the table than Hollins and arguably a couple of other names as well. The Eagles cannot afford to extinguish a flame they have been trying so desperately to light this season.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports