Apart of sixteen roster transactions since initially signing with Philly as an UDFA in 2017- being waived by the team accounting for the bulk of them- quarterback-turned-receiver Greg Ward was hardly a blip on the radar in the NFL arena coming into the season. A former collegiate star at the University of Houston, Ward began the year on the Eagles practice squad, just as he has the last two years.
Despite not beginning his transformation from signal-caller to wide receiver until late in his senior season of college, the twitchy athlete has shown enough promise as a pass-catcher to secure a slot on the Super Bowl-caliber roster each of the last few years.
Playing in the NFL in any capacity is an extremely difficult feat in and of itself. Attempting to accomplish it by entering the league whilst learning an entirely new position, however, sounds borderline impossible- but is something Ward never pondered would fail.
“Just having a lot of faith and never quitting,” Ward said near his suddenly crowded locker. “Not once did I have it in my mind that this wasn’t going to work.”
By earning a practice squad slot each of the last three seasons, Ward was allowed to keep his head low, stay abreast of the ever-evolving Doug Pederson offense, and train rigorously with one of the most hard-working, talented rosters the league has to offer. Despite the team not having much in the way of consistency at wide receiver coach, the 24-year-old pass-catcher made tremendous strides as a wideout and serves as one of the biggest examples of the developmental skills across the Eagles staff.
After three years of grinding routinely along with the practice squad and growing into a serviceable skill player along the way, the speedy wideout was only missing one thing- opportunity.
Despite his impressive efforts as a p-squad player, Ward was still buried deep beneath a seemingly loaded Eagles wide receiver depth chart. Heading into this season, former Pro Bowlers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson headlined a talented Philly WR corps, with Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Mack Hollins rounding out the group. With expectations of an explosive season from both Jeffery and D-Jax, people would sooner think of their first-grade teacher’s favorite color than the prospects of seeing Greg Ward Jr. on gameday to begin 2019.
As we know, though, the aforementioned wide receiver corps didn’t go on to light up the scoreboard like anticipated. Instead, the top three wideouts (Jeffery, Jackson, and Agholor) all suffered regular-season ending injuries before any of them could even crack 500 yards.
Of course, losing nearly half of your starting skill position players calls for some major adjustments- or, in this case, roster transactions- as those offensive snaps would need to be allocated elsewhere. Considered a strength heading into the season, the Eagles were abruptly depleted at receiver and in need of a quick fix.
Suddenly, after waiting patiently in the wings for three years, Ward was finally granted the opportunity he desired. An opportunity, it turns out, he was fully prepared to maximize.
Following a promotion to the active roster, Ward got his first taste of extended action against Seattle in Week 12. After mimicking mobile, superstar quarterback Russell Wilson in practice simulations for Philly, Ward did a little damage as a pass-catcher against the Wilson-led Seahawks. The speedy wideout didn’t allow the nerves of his first action to get the best of him and corralled 6 passes for 40 yards on seven targets.
Though his 40-yard effort didn’t land him on any highlight reels and came in a loss, it was encouraging to see an Eagles receiver actually..catch the ball. Consistently, no less.
Still playing with virtually no expectations, Ward was pretty quiet the next week following his outing against Seattle- recording just 5 yards in a barn burner matchup against Miami.
In the highly-important, final four do-or-die division matchups for the Birds, however, Ward stepped up tremendously and provided a much-needed spark from the receiver corps.
The Texas native recorded 21 receptions, 209 yards, and 1 TD across the Birds’ final four regular-season games- his lone score a game-winning snag in the back of the endzone over former Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman.
Excelling when the lights shined brightest in Philly, Ward was his usual, humble self when asked what was going through his head immediately following the game-winning score.
“I was thinking about my parents. I was thinking about my brothers and my sisters and my whole family. I was thankful to be in that position. That was my first (NFL) touchdown catch and it was a game-winner. Just to be able to make that play, I’m thankful.’’
Once a forgotten man at the bottom of the totem pole in Philly, the determined pass-catcher has suddenly emerged from the ashes- helping resurrect the Eagles season with his ascension. While it may seem like a distant memory now that his name echoes throughout the streets of Philadelphia, things weren’t always peaches and cream for Ward on his path to the active roster. The former Houston standout admits it was difficult being waived repeatedly- despite always leaving his all on the field- and credited his trust in God in assisting him to get through those times.
“God. That’s all I can say is God,” Ward replied when asked how he was able to stay strong through the sixteen waiver transactions he endured. “I believe in Him [God] so much. I knew that one day I’d be playing. I just had faith and kept praying.”
Amidst newfound fame and glory following his impressive play, though, Ward is still holding firm to the work ethic that put him in such a favorable situation.
“My mindset is to continue to work, no matter the success or the failures,” Ward said. “They’re both the same — they’re both there to either help you or hurt you. It’s just the approach that you take on it.”
Now, less than a week away from his first crack at the NFL postseason, Ward will need to work harder than ever to help keep the Birds alive. Eagles season leader in receptions and receiving yards Zach Ertz is said to be a game-time decision with a lacerated kidney and bruised rib, so HC Doug Pederson may once again turn to the sure-handed Ward to bolster the offense and extend drives against Seattle- where he will once again look to prove that practice makes perfect.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports