As the Eagles break the huddle and wait for the official start of training camp, there are plenty of questions starting to arise. Positional battles under Nick Sirianni will be intense and the players on the edge of the roster will need to fight harder than ever to secure their futures. This series will dive into some of the most prominent one-on-one duels set to unfold this Summer, starting off at wide receiver.John Hightower and Quez Watkins are the two names to watch at this position.
The battle on the bubble will likely between the two aforementioned receivers. With the team not signing a veteran to the roster, one of these two players will be in for a decent size role but have to find their way onto the roster first. Hightower was selected in the 5th round of last season’s draft while Watkins was selected right after in the 6th round. Both players have a lot of similarities but one player has the edge. Let’s take a look at who that is.
Both wideouts have incredible speed for sure. Watkins ran a 4.35 at the 40-yard dash while Hightower ran a 4.43. Now there’s a huge difference between their speeds at the combine vs actual in-game speed. If you look at the tape, Hightower has a great release with even better acceleration. The kid is a blur once the ball is hiked. As for Watkins, it takes him a couple of seconds longer to really hit that second gear in off coverage.
If you take a look at the game vs the Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles took full advantage of Hightower’s speed as they sent him in motion which revealed that the defense was on zone coverage. After Hightower gets set at the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, Wentz hikes the ball and Hightower turns the burners on and completely takes the top off of the defense. If Wentz didn’t underthrow this ball it would’ve gone for a sure touchdown instead of just a 50 yard gain.
Quez Watkins also had a great opportunity to put his in-game speed on display as well. Against the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles ran a screen pass for the wide receiver in which it took one spin move to have Watkins off to the races and score for a 32-yard touchdown pass.
Both players have great in-game speed but the edge has to go to Hightower purely based on the fact that his ability to hit that second gear so quickly is a huge advantage for him going forward.
Against Man Press Coverage
Both Hightower and Watkins have huge areas for improvement heading into the season with one of them being the ability to beat man coverage at the line of scrimmage. If they can improve their hand techniques to fight off the defender then both players can be incredibly lethal but until then, this is a huge area of opportunity for both.
Of course, we know how bad of a track record the teams’ wide receivers have when it comes to drops because of the amount of “clutch” catches that have led to drops in the past.
John Hightower had a huge missed catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers that could’ve helped the team. It seems as if Hightower has moments where he just miscalculates where the ball is going to be and his hands don’t listen to his eyes .
Even with having some big misses in the season, Hightower only had 3 drops last year, which is good. The unfortunate part is that 5 passes were intercepted when he was targeted which could’ve been due to lack of communication or lack of understanding of his routes. For his sake, let’s just say it’s both. Although Hightower’s average depth of target(air yards) was among the top in the league at 22.6; his QB passer rating when targeted was only at 15.2.
Quez Watkins had a small sample size last season due to an injury he suffered during training camp. He played in just 6 games and only racked up 106 receiving yards on 7 receptions. He had 2 drops with no targets going for interceptions. His passer rating when targeted was at 106.6. Watkins played more down the stretch and mostly played with rookie QB Jalen Hurts. As Hightower played mostly with former Eagles QB Carson Wentz.
Both players had moments where it seemed that their hand-eye coordination or focus was completely off. Hightower couldn’t make some big catches while it looked like Watkins would turn his eyes upfield before the ball was in his possession but seeing what Hightower was able to accomplish with his air yards, you can’t help but wonder if the new coaching staff will build on that.
In college, Watkins was able to sell cornerbacks with his head fakes and ability to change direction but that has yet to translate to the NFL.
As for Hightower, it seems that he relied on his speed more than anything to help get his feet wet. His average of 3.7 yards of separation was exactly what the Eagles needed but you can’t be a one-trick pony running only verticals all year long. Neither receiver has the advantage here due to the lack of tape on Watkins in the NFL but both have a lot of work to do if they want to make that jump this season.
John Hightower vs Quez Watkins outlook
Hightower looks like the guy that has the edge and with a new coaching staff in town, it’s a chance for the Boise State product to turn a new leaf after reportedly failing to see eye to eye with the old staff following his snaps dropping with Reagor’s return.
With the season on the horizon, expect to hear a lot about these two receivers as they will truly test the ability of this new coaching staff. The biggest experiment for Coach Sirianni will be to take advantage of both these players’ speed and translate it to touchdowns.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)