Did Super Bowl 54 emphasize a ‘need for speed’ for the Eagles?

‘The need for speed’ is something that has been linked with the Eagles since day one of the Doug Pederson era. The search for a viable WR2 that can take the top off a defense and force coordinators to give them attention has been an interesting one. Torrey Smith, Mike Wallace, and even DeSean Jackson have all tried to fill the void, but the Eagles are yet to find a long-term option with that blistering top-end speed.

Jackson has two years remaining on the contract he signed with the Eagles, but his 2019 season hardly inspired hope that he’ll be a consistent and reliable fixture on the outside. It’s clear that the Eagles have to finally turn to the draft to find the next-in-line, but is it speed they really covet?

After Super Bowl 54, the discussion can certainly be raised. Seeing names like Deebo Samuel wreak havoc on jet-sweeps, while Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins burn the Niners secondary left fans salivating at the prospect of a trailblazer on the Eagles roster. However, it’s been something that fans have been noticing all season.

Whether it’s Terry McLaurin’s deep touchdowns, Amari Cooper’s route-running, r getting up close and personal with Robby Anderson (and um…Luke Falk), or even the explosive Saints offense, the Eagles saw teams across the league put a focus on game-changing speed…which is a contrast to how this team has been built.

The Eagles have prioritized a different trait at wide receiver over the last few years – size. Last year, JJ Arcega-Whiteside was drafted at 6’2, 225 lbs, possessing an eerily similar frame and skillset to Alshon Jeffery’s 6’3, 216 lbs, frame. The idea of a red-zone package consisting of Alshon, JJAW, and two monstrous tight ends is absolutely terrifying on paper, but it didn’t exactly pan out as planned last year.

Although, having said that, it’s clear to see the success in the red zone. here are the TD scoring percentages from inside the opposing 20 since the arrival of Doug Pederson.

2019: 63%
2018: 59%
2017: 64%
2016: 49%

A heavy focus has brought with it impressive results. But what about the other eighty yards of turf that need to be covered in order to get down inside the red zone?

With Nelson Agholor likely hitting the free-agent market, it not only leaves Greg Ward Jr. as the lone slot receiver, but also an opportunity to change course. The Eagles oddly guaranteed Alshon Jeffery’s 2020 salary last year, so if we’re to assume he’s back (despite reports citing otherwise), the Eagles would have two big-bodied wideouts and an aging speedster. DeSean Jackson can play the slot if needed (and he did score a touchdown against the Redskins in week 1 lining up there), but two big-bodied jump-ball specialists with the same frame on the outside isn’t exactly ideal.

There are some attractive free agent names who fit the mold perfectly. Players like the aforementioned Robby Anderson will command a big payday, but bring next-level speed to the table. The problem is that if D-Jax is to be kept around, having two players at WR2 with the exact same skillset only mirrors the issue currently faced on the other side of the formation.

The Eagles need to work out exactly what it is they want at wide receiver. They worked out a flurry of ‘big-slot’ receivers last year before drafting Arcega-Whiteside and it now seems like moving him inside is a plausibility. Or, the team could part ways with Alshon, draft a speedy slot receiver in the vein of a baby Golden Tate, and then look to add developmental speed on the outside to learn behind Jackson.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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