Shortly after free agency officially opened, the Eagles released two players in Alshon Jeffery and Malik Jackson. The team obviously has a bag full of draft picks that they’ll likely use to bring in help at both WR and DT, but with free agency funds limited, it’s worth taking a look at players already on the roster who might see an increased role.
Replacing Alshon Jeffery
JJAW’s rookie season was beyond disappointing. Outside of the occasional flash of potential, 2019 was mired with injuries and a bid to teach him the playbook from every spot. Arcega-Whiteside saw 42% of offensive snaps but was targeted just 22 times.
With Alshon Jeffery sidelined for training camp one year later, the opportunity to clinch a starting role from someone facing an early exit was clear. He ended 2020 with 4 receptions for 85 yards, with his most notable play being that hustling block on a Miles Sanders breakaway run.
With Alshon Jeffery now out of the building and a new coaching staff in place, the stars could be aligning for a new beginning. Nick Sirianni favors blocking receivers and Arcega-Whiteside has a frame and skillset that mirrors Alshon Jeffery.
The story so far has been bleak, but with a lack of funds available in free agency and the likelihood of a shiny new receiver joining the team during the NFL Draft, Arcega-Whiteside’s ceiling will likely be a depth receiver who can be a threat down in the red-zone and really make an impact as a blocker, which is what Alshon Jeffery was often asked to do under Doug Pederson.
There was an uproar after Alshon Jeffery returned from injury and displaced a receiver who was very much the silver lining in a very dark cloud last year. At 6’2, 215 lbs, Travis Fulgham oddly has a scarily similar athletic outlook to J.J Arcega-Whiteside. The difference is that we saw more production from Fulgham as a receiver in the space of a few weeks than we have from JJAW in two years.
Fulgham amassed 539 yards and 4 touchdowns last year, but 435 of those yards came in a four week span where he led the NFL in receiving. If the Eagles are looking for a ‘receiver’ to replace Jeffery, then the wideout who had the rug pulled from under him to facilitate Jeffery’s return is probably the best bet.
This is a wildcard option, but many view John Hightower as a speedster, and rightly so. What they forget, however, is that he’s the same height as both of the aforementioned receivers and a little lighter. Hightower isn’t going to be the physical presence on the outside that Alshon was, but if the Eagles remain focused on speed and taking the top off of defenses, the Boise State product showed that he does have a ton of potential if he can overcome a case of the dropsies.
Hightower really didn’t play as badly as people make out. He ended his rookie year with 167 yards on 10 receptions and actually led the NFL in ‘Average depth of target’ (22 yards), showing that the Eagles clearly view him as a burner.
He’ll likely have to fight for an increased role if he was to be aligned at the ‘X’ spot as he just doesn’t fit the same mold that JJAW and Fulgham do, but that blazing speed does bring a different angle to the table.
Replacing Malik Jackson
Raequan Williams was one of the real gems from last year’s UDFA class. At 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, the Michigan State product joined the Eagles off of a season where he amassed 48 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 5 sacks and two pass breakups. He was buried on the depth chart last year and played in just 9% of snaps, but played in each of the team’s final five games, amassing five tackles and a sack.
T.Y. McGill has largely been a depth option for the Eagles through two stints with the team, but did sign a one-year contract back in January after being scheduled to enter free agency. This should at least be a sign that the Eagles want to keep him around in the short-term. He played in 12% of snaps last year which is notably a little higher than Williams.
The Eagles are familiar with the 6’0, 299 lbs, DT, but his smaller size might work as a disadvantage when working against the offensive line this Summer in a new-look defense. It’s worth noting that the Colts didn’t have a DT smaller than 6’2 in 2020. For this reason, I think Williams has the leg-up, but McGill should still have an inside-track for the DT4 spot.
Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire