Sunday’s win over Washington was made possible thanks to a fourth-quarter breakout from the unlikeliest of candidates. At least, that’s what it looks like to anyone who isn’t familiar with Greg Ward Jr’s journey to the NFL.
Prior to a fourth-quarter drive where he received for 40-yards and the game-winning touchdown, the former Houston quarterback spent three years waiting for his shot.
Warf came out of college and transitioned to wide receiver, spending the next two years on the edge of making the Eagles 53-man roster. Over two preseasons with the Eagles, Ward caught 13 passes for 92 yards. There was clearly a reason the Eagles continued to bring back the 5’11, 190 lbs, receiver, but through all the heart in spring, determination in Summer, and impressive preseason performances, he was buried onto the practice squad again and again.
The problem was that on both occasions, the Eagles were tied to guys lower on the depth chart. Players like Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins, who were in their second year and would, of course, take priority over an unproven undrafted free agent who is still learning the intricacies of the position.
This offseason marked a different opportunity. The receiving corps was top-heavy and more dangerous than ever on the surface. But beneath it lay a chance to overthrow Mack Hollins and sneak onto the roster.
The development in Ward’s game was impressively visible and was likely aided by a leap of faith earlier that year. Ward Jr. took his talents to the shortlived Alliance of American Football, where he recorded 22 receptions for 214 yards and more importantly, showcased an ability as a returner, bringing back nine punts for 135 yards, leading the league with an average of 15 yards per return.
At 23-years old, Ward entered this offseason younger than most and with experience of playing WR in a competitive game without a preseason label on it. But even then, in a preseason where he averaged 14 yards per reception and recorded a touchdown, the Eagles still elected to keep an underperforming Hollins over Ward, risking him to waivers yet again.
After a dismal season offensively and one that was filled with injury and concern, the Eagles finally gave Ward Jr. the green light. Three years, sixteen roster moves, a stint in the AAF and a whole lot of waiting later…it was time.
“I think on the inside, we know the type of player that Greg Ward is, because we’ve seen it day-in, day-out.” Pederson told reporters on Monday.
“It’s a little bit of a tricky situation, because as you’re trying to construct your roster for each game, he was on practice squad to start the year and you’re trying to maybe – “Ah, is this the week that we can get him up?” And then there might be an injury in the game that we have to make a move and bring somebody else in a spot maybe on the defensive side or the offensive side or whatever it is, and it just didn’t work out until here in the last three, four games.
We’re excited that obviously had a chance to bring him up. We know the type of player he is, and he’s proven that on the field.”
To say he made the most of his chance would be an understatement. In the final drive of the game, Ward entered it being the only wideout to have a catch to his name. He ended it with 40 yards of receiving and a touchdown added to his tally, as he and Wentz cut through the Redskins defense with ease to seal the game.
Nelson Agholor’s time in Philadelphia is likely coming to an end and it’s as if the stars have aligned for the once dual-threat QB to make a statement and prove himself worthy of earning a contract and stepping into that role long-term.
As the Eagles hit their biggest game of the season, an all-or-nothing game against the Cowboys, Ward Jr’s persistence and resilience should set the tone for the entire team. He’s waited a long time for this moment…and I don’t think we’re going to forget what he does with it in a hurry. Is this the start of a new Eagles fairytale? It just might be…
Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports