What the Michael Walker signing means for the Eagles WR Room

NFL: NOV 17 Jaguars at Colts
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – NOVEMBER 17: Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Michael Walker (13) runs downfield on a kickoff return during the NFL game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts on November 17, 2019 at Lucas Oil Stadium, in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

In a surprise move yesterday afternoon, the Philadelphia Eagles acquired former Jaguar Michael Walker and cut ties with WR Trevon Grimes, Khalil Tate and QB Jamie Newman. It is a head turning move on paper, but also a possible glance into what the WR room and offence as a whole will look like in 2021. While it’s unlikely Walker makes the final roster, depth is always indicative of a team’s philosophy and this is a welcome and intriguing glimpse at the potential shape of this offense.

While there is a steep climb ahead for the former Boston College WR, Walker does bring a lot of good to the table for the Birds. Two major qualities stand out when you look at his film and athletic profile.

Number one has to be his special teams value. He was a record setting return man in college, breaking his school’s record for single season yards per return (28.6) in his freshman year. Michael Walker ranked first in the nation in 2017 with 1,203 combined kickoff return and punt return yards and had a single game high of 213 kick-off return yards in 2018. Despite having a promising young core of playmakers, a designated return man is a glaring need for the Eagles. If nothing else, adding Walker adds a little spice into the competition. That value alone makes him a dark horse for a roster spot.

This article could start and end with that point — it’s certainly the major reason Philadelphia went out of their way to acquire the former Jag. However, there is a second shimmer of promise in Walker’s game: his potential as a screen man. As a dangerous returner, it’s not a difficult leap to make. We have heard mumblings of just how important the screen game is going to be this year for the Eagles and they just added another tool to their bag of tricks. Again, Walker is no lock for the roster, but it is telling that the Birds are opting to add more depth to their ball-in-hand receiver reserves.

Which brings us full circle to what this means for the team. It’s June and the team has a new coaching staff, so every inch of Eagles media — including myself — are looking for parallels to draw from the tiniest of developments. However, there is something tangible here. It is quite likely that, should he make it through waivers, Trevon Grimes is a candidate for IR stashing. That is a weighty if to let float in the unknowns, but teams will have to take a chance on him being healthy come September — an unlikely scenario that may allow the Eagles to keep the young receiver in midnight green.

From the outside looking in, the Eagles seem to have a cemented top four in the WR room. Devonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward — not necessarily in that order — will likely have a firm grip on the snap count come September. Nevertheless, this a team that could easily keep six receivers. John Hightower and Quez Watkins have the inside track in my mind, but both bring a similar skill set to the table.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has to be feeling good about the move. Unless Jhamon Ausbon has the favor of the coaches, JJAW is the only Travis Fulgham insurance left on the roster. Although it doesn’t guarantee the third year receiver a roster spot, he has to like his chances. On one hand, adding another smaller receiver to the mix makes JJAW ever more important. On the other, it is writing on the wall that this offence will be predicated on its speed more than its size.

Then, there is the newcomer. Unless the Birds are content with a combination of Jalen Reagor, Boston Scott, Greg Ward and rookie Kenny Gainwell duking it out for kick return responsibilities — there is a clear opportunity for a roster spot. Personally, I don’t feel great about a WR2 returning kicks; neither Boston Scott, nor Greg Ward have proven to be true threats, and from Jemal Singleton’s interview it seems as if the team plans to bring on Gainwell slowly.

As I said before, Walker is a longshot to make the final roster. Still, with a need for a dedicated returner and ample screens to pass around — there is an outside chance he can challenge for a role. It’s a fun move to ponder as we get closer to an incredibly interesting summer in Philadelphia.

Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

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