Why the Eagles might not need to draft a receiver in the first round after all


The NFL Draft is less than one week away and speculation surrounding what the Eagles will do with their first-round pick is building at a rapid rate. For the most part, all eyes are on a wide receiver or cornerback and understandably so. But while it’s easy to be drawn to the electric receiving talents in this class, there’s one man whose influence may actually push the Eagles in another direction – Head Coach Nick Sirianni.

To understand this, we need to go back and look at what Sirianni has achieved in his coaching career so far. He’s coached several different position groups and worked for a few different organizations, but the position we’re concerned about here is wide receiver. If we go back and examine the years in which the new Eagles Head Coach has either directly influenced the position or coordinated the offense, a very interesting trend emerges.

Chiefs 2012 – WR coach

Dwayne Bowe (6’2, 221) – 801 yards, 3 touchdowns
Jonathan Baldwin (6’4, 225) 325 yards, 1 touchdown

The immediate thing that jumps out here is that this was a very different Chiefs offense which at the time was headed up by Jamaal Charles. This in itself is kind of important when you look at both the Chargers and Colts teams that Sirianni went on to work with and the emphasis on rushing the ball effectively.

In a more direct sense, both of the team’s top receiving targets that year were sizeable possession-based wideouts.

Chargers 2016 – WR Coach

Tyrell Williams (6’4, 205 lbs) 1,059 yards, 7 touchdowns, 48 first downs *career highs
Dontrelle Inman ( 6’3, 205 lbs) 810 yards, 4 touchdowns *career highs
Travis Benjamin (5’10, 175 lbs) 677 yards, 4 touchdowns

New team, same result. Tyrell Williams ended up posting a career-year under Sirianni and Dontrelle Inman followed suit. Benjamin set the tone from the slot, given the Chargers a potent receiving attack. Again, the thing to note here is that speed hasn’t been a focus. Instead, it’s receivers who can make the quarterback better by making uncatchable passes catchable, extending the catch-radius, and boxing out defenders.

It’s also worth noting that none of these three receivers were drafted highly. Travis Benjamin was a fourth-round pick, while both Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman were undrafted free agents.

Chargers 2017

Keenan Allen (6’2, 211 lbs) 1,393 yards, 6 touchdowns
Tyrell Willliams (6’4, 205 lbs) 728 yards, 4 touchdowns
Travis Benjamin (5’10, 175 lbs) 567 yards, 4 touchdowns

Keenan Allen’s 2017 campaign was remarkable but like the other Chargers wideouts named before him, he was also drafted in the third-round. Coming off of an ACL in 2016, his lone season under Sirianni was an exceptional one. He’s become more versatile as time has gone on, but at the time, Sirianni preached that Allen belonged in the slot and it was very easy to see why. He has such a rare blend of physicality and crisp route-running that it makes it very hard for any defenders to knock him off of his stem.

The Eagles had toyed with the idea of ‘big-slot’ guys in the past, but never fully bought into the idea. By this point in his career, Sirianni had been molded in the fires of receivers who can block, get physical, and win the stem of the route by being able to absorb contact at the line. When he arrived in Indianapolis as offensive coordinator, he was exposed to a different kind of group.

Colts 2018 – Offensive coordinator

T.Y Hilton (5’10, 183 lbs) 1,270 yards, 6 touchdowns
Chester Rogers (6’0, 184 lbs) 485 yards, 2 touchdowns
Ryan Grant (6’0, 195 lbs) 334 yards, 1 touchdown

T.Y Hilton is a lot smaller than your typical X-receiver. However, this season has been the only time in four years that he topped 1,000 yards. Hilton also had 6 receptions of 40+ yards to his name with Andrew Luck taking full advantage of his ability to create separation at the beginning of the route.

The Colts were able to run their offense through Hilton and scheme plays to get him into open space, realizing that for him to thrive, the offense has to be molded around their most prolific playmaker. This backs up what Sirianni preached this past week in that he really does put a firm focus on maximizing skillets.

*Side note, no receiver drafted earlier than round 3 up to this point.

Colts 2019 – Offensive coordinator

Zach Pascal (6’2, 214 lbs) 607 yards, 5 touchdowns
T.Y Hilton (5’10, 183 lbs) 501 yards 5 touchdowns
Marcus Johnson (6’1, 207 lbs) 277 yards, 2 touchdowns

The Colts signed UDFA Zach Pascal as a bigger-bodied wideout and he fit like a hand in a glove. Former Eagles wideout Marcus Johnson added some nice blocking abilities for the run-game, but Pacal’s breakout was one that very few saw coming. What’s really impressive here is what follows in 2020, with Sirianni proving that he can continuously develop wide receivers.

It’s worth noting that Parris Campbell was drafted in the second-round and has battled injuries ever since.

Colts 2020 – Offensive coordinator

T.Y Hilton (5’10, 183 lbs) 762 yards, 5 touchdowns
Zach Pascal (6’2, 214 lbs) 629 yards, 5 touchdowns
Michael Pittman Jr. (6’4, 223 lbs) 503 yards, 1 touchdown

The Colts drafted a big body in Michael Pittman Jr. And the picture was complete. The Colts had a dominant X-receiver on the outside, a nippy T.Y Hilton who was keen to get back to his best, and Zach Pascal, who improved on his 2019 breakout. This bodes well for players like Travis Fulgham, who proved they have what it takes to be a featured member of the offense in the right situation.

What we learned

Nick Sirianni has worked with an eclectic array of receivers throughout his career, but the big thing to note is that the majority of success he’s been able to have has not come from developing first-round talent. Three receivers have enjoyed 1,000+ yard seasons and none of them were high-round draft picks.

Now obviously, Sirianni didn’t have personnel control. But there’s an element of familiarity throughout his coaching career that is hard to ignore. Now tasked with building a roster of his own or at the very least having a say in those bigger conversations, it’s likely he falls back on what he knows…which is a culmination of everything he’s been able to achieve so far.

The Eagles already have a burner in Jalen Reagor – a first-round pick from one year ago. They also have a combination of J.J Arcega-Whiteside and Travis Fulgham to work with if they believe their starting X-receiver is already in-house. It’s also worth mentioning that the Eagles retained WR coach Aaron Moorehead, which given the downfall of the 2020 season is a pretty significant vote of confidence in his ability to turn potential into ability.

If the Eagles are going to add a receiver in this year’s draft, you can make the case that they already have 3 speedsters on the roster from last year’s draft haul. They have a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the X-spot and may need some extra bulk inside.

This would hypothetically push the Eagles towards a player like Rashod Bateman over DeVonta Smith, if they were thinking first-round talent at all, but with pressing needs at cornerback given that the team are set to face 10+ elite receivers next year and at least 6 great ones twice each season for the foreseeable future, there may be enough confidence in Sirianni’s ability to not only mold his offense around traits already on his roster, but squeeze every last drop of juice out of a prototype of receiver that can be found much later in the Draft.

It’s not how much cash you flash, it’s how you invest it…and Sirianni is the embodiment of that.

Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire