The Eagles offense was shockingly bad against the Carolina panthers but that doesn’t mean there weren’t positives to take. One of the biggest momentum shifts of the entire endeavour game on a 53-yard bomb to Quez Watkins. It paved the way for a big-time score and acted as a stark reminder of just how lethal he can be. But if the team are really going to take that next step forward, it might be time to shake things up.
Watkins has made his money this season lining up in the slot due to his lean 6’0, 193 lbs, frame. It felt like this was always going to be the case after such an explosive summer, but it’s also become apparent that Watkins has much more to offer than the ability to become a YAC machine over the middle.
For the first time all season, he played in more snaps than former first-round pick Jalen Reagor. The draftmate of Watkins is having a slightly topsy-truly season that has played host to just as many flashes of potential as it has gut wrenching moments of disappointment. From penalties and errors to some sluggish route-running at times, Reagor hasn’t been able to tie it all together just yet. That’s not to say he won’t, but Watkins already is.
We know that the Southern Miss product has the speed to burn corners badly and after a rookie year of poor route-running, he dove into the lab and came out sharper than anyone could’ve hoped for and it’s being reflected in his play. Watkins now leads the NFL in average yards per reception after a string of huge deep receptions.
He has 267 yards through five games, but a huge chunk of those came from a stunning 91-yard reception that fell just short of being punched in for six against the Niners. If it wasn’t clear at the end of preseason, it certainly is now. Quez Watkins can absolutely be the deep-threat that fans have craved since the days of DeSean Jackson. The Eagles just need to let him become that.
The first step is lining him up outside. That seems like a tall jump, but it really shouldn’t be. The Eagles spent the entire offseason breaking Jalen Reagor into slot responsibilities in the hopes that he’d be able to become a versatile weapon for Jalen Hurts. Just 9% of his snaps have come from inside this season, which is a little concerning given how much emphasis was placed on a successful move.
Reagor may find it more beneficial to work over the middle against smaller corners. He’s still struggling to get open off the line and releasing against typically smaller corners may enable him to assert himself with more confidence through the stem. Reagor would be able to work into open pockets of space against zonal coverages as opposed to constantly having to beat his man, something which he has struggled to do consistently this season.
Conversely, having Quez Watkins lined up at the Z-spot forces a secondary shell to respect his speed. Corners won’t want to play tight press coverage knowing that one false step could see them being turned around within the blink of an eye. It would force safeties to have to stay deeper that extra second or two which will in turn open things up underneath for Jalen Hurts.
Watkins has ran routes on 78 of his 82 snaps this season, per player profiler, and has been targeted on 17.5% of them. He’s yet to drop a pass this season and ranks among the top receivers in the majority of deep metrics. Conversely, Jalen Reagor has run 113 routes and been targeted only 14.5% of the time. He sits behind Watkins in total receiving yardage this season, with most of his catches coming at the intermediate level.
It’s clear that the Eagles view Quez Watkins as a burner and nobody really knows what Jalen Reagor can be just yet. The flashes are there, but so are the disappearing acts and worrying errors. If there’s ever a place for Reagor to build up his confidence, it’s in the slot, just like Nelson Agholor before him. If there’s a place for a deep-threat to shine, it’s on the outside.
Nick Sirianni has to make this adjustment if he wants his offense to ascend to the next level.
hoto by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire