The roar of the Washington crowd on a cold December afternoon when Greg Ward Jr. caught his first ever NFL touchdown is something that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. The ultimate underdog story was complete. Ward Jr. has risen from the ashes again and a again, finally being rewarded with his first score in a do-or-die moment that would define both the season and the game. But just a few months later, the slot receiver has been tossed back into the deck.
It’s been a long road for the Texas native, who first joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent QB to WR convert back in 2017. The former Houston quarterback transitioned to wide receiver and spent 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, proving himself at 5’11, 190 lbs, to be a capable slot receiver.
He would then take his talents to the Alliance of American Football, where working in a professional league as a starter would give him some much-needed experience and exposure. 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.
Upon his return to the Eagles, it was clear that Ward had taken a step forward. He narrowly missed the cut a third time, but this was to be the charm. Ward was signed to the practice squad and would receive an elevation to the main roster in week 12.
Ward had spent most of his time on the scout team mimicking mobile QB’s, but he finally got his chance at regular season action against Seattle, catching 6 passes for 40 yards.
Over the final four games of a season where the Eagles couldn’t afford to drop another game, the Texas native recorded 21 receptions, 209 yards, and 1 TD, which came against the Redskins in that iconic 4th quarter moment.
It finally seemed as though the Eagles had a slot receiver to lean on once again. Nelson Agholor was kicked to the curb and Ward Jr. was the only man in the room…until he wasn’t.
The Eagles drafted 3 receivers and traded for another. While none are ‘strictly’ slot guys, getting any combination on the field at once is going to impact the 24-year-old receiver.
For instance, we know DeSean Jackson has worked out of the slot plenty of times throughout his career, in fact, over 40% of the time in 2018. His first touchdown as an Eagle last year came working over the middle. In order to get both Jalen Reagor and Jackson on the field, D-Jax may well be moved inside on certain looks.
John Hightower and Quez Watkins may also be limited to slot action early in their careers, while 15% of Marquise Goodwin’s snaps also came inside last year. While there is no direct ‘slot competition’, the abundance of speed and intent to utilize it may well push Greg Ward Jr. back onto the roster bubble.
The bad news for the Eagles here is that if they do end up waiving him for the fourth consecutive season, teams now know he’s a capable NFL wideout and the chances of him returning are lower than ever.
It’s a really murky situation, but after three years of being the odd man out and that curse finally being lifted, Ward is back to familiar, unsettled territory. Maybe he’ll spring a surprise and begin to thrive during an offseason like no other…it wouldn’t be the first time.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports