It was an offseason of change for the Eagles’ wide receiver corps. An infusion of youth was injected into the veins of a position that had endured a season of injuries and a severe lack of production from its biggest names. The Eagles went heavy on adding speed and explosiveness to the group throughout the draft process and even without OTA’s or preseason, Pederson feels confident in his revamped group ahead of week one…which is just as well seeing as depth is already being called into question.
The team may be without its jewel in the crown for the first few weeks. Jalen Reagor is working through a mild injury, which is obviously a little concerning, while Quez Watkins hit IR yesterday in a surprising move. This is less than ideal for a draft class consisting of three wide receivers, two of whom won’t be on the field for week one, but Pederson has seen enough from his other players to remain confident.
DeSean Jackson, for instance, someone who missed every game outside of this opening fixture one year ago, is finally fully healthy. The veteran speedster would still likely be the starting ‘Z’ receiver even with Reagor in the fold. If he can get anywhere remotely close to his 154-yard outing he put up against Washington in 2019, or the blazing speed in which he used to put up those numbers, then the pressure on Reagor’s return will be minimal.
“One thing with DeSean, he feels good, he feels healthy and he’s ready to go for the regular season.” The Eagles Head Coach explained. “Getting him back in the offense is just a boost. Obviously, a veteran player who can still play and play at a high level. That’s a really good thing for our offense to have him back in the lineup.
On the other side of the field will sit one of Summer’s brightest standouts and 2019’s biggest disappointments. JJ Arcega-Whiteside will be out for vengeance in a bid to make up for lost time, manning the ‘X’ position no the back of a truly explosive Summer, while Greg Ward Jr. will be the starting slot receiver.
“It’s a young group but [WR] J.J. [Arcega-Whiteside] has got experience.” Pederson said. “He’s played for us last year. [WR] Greg Ward has played for us last year. He’s played in some big games. He made some big catches. Those two guys there, feel real comfortable obviously in how they performed in camp. “
JJAW’s scintillating Summer might well be enough to elevate his confidence to new heights, and hopefully his production with it.
As for Ward, the Texas native recorded 21 receptions, 209 yards, and 1 TD across the Birds’ final four regular-season games last season, rapidly emerging as a fan favorite and a safety net for Carson Wentz. His lone score was a game-winning snag in the back of the endzone over former Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman.
Behind the starters is where the loss of Quez Watkins will hurt to begin with, but Boise State’s John Hightower is riding a wave of momentum into his NFL debut and another man to draw praise from his Head Coach.
“And then looking at [WR] John Hightower who has done a good job in camp and really earned a spot on our roster and really looking forward to him. He’s another one we’ve got to get caught up obviously with the game plan and narrow some things down with him.”
Hightower started 13 of 14 games played in last year, leading Boise State in receiving yards (943) and touchdowns (8) on 51 catches. He may well end up being the steal of this year’s draft class and without much depth behind him to begin with, there’s a strong chance he receives more offensive exposure in the early weeks.
The Eagles may well decide to call up another Training Camp standout in Deontay Burnett to fill the void left by Watkins. But even without doing so, the Eagles have an intimidating WR group that’s filled with a perfect blend of size, speed, and soft hands. It’s a huge contrast to last year’s group that was mired with declining production and injuries. The scary part is, the team’s shiniest cog isn’t yet in this conversation…
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire