The Eagles have outgrown Quez Watkins, and that’s okay

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Quez watkins eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 12: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (16) runs for a touchdown during the preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles are now one of only two undefeated teams in the entire league. In theory, there shouldn’t be much to complain about, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t. The team plays host to one of the most dominant wide receiver tandems in all of football, but it’s the elusive third spot that continues to draw criticism.

Over the last few years, that spot in the slot has belonged to Quez Watkins. A speedster who flew out of college with a 4.35 40-yard dash to his name, he was selected by the Eagles in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

The team he joined, as we know, wasn’t exactly glistening in potential. The Eagles endured a tumultuous time of things, ending the year with just 4 wins before ultimately sacking Doug Pederson. It was easy for Quez Watkins and his rapid upside to stand out, because there wasn’t much else to write home about.

A flash of hope

In 2021, the rebuild began. Jalen Hurts stepped into his first season as a starter and Watkins was highlighted as a player who could progress with the second-year quarterback. A 647-yard season was certainly one way to validate the hype, especially when the likes of Jalen Reagor failed to do much of anything around him.

Watkins notably had a 91-yard reception that year and averaged over 10 yards per target. He was being used as a perennial deep threat, but that was all the team needed him to be. There was no real pressure as the team took its first step on the road back to glory.

Eagles nfc east quez watkins
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (16) carries the ball against Washington Commanders safety Bobby McCain (20) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Back down to Earth

Then 2022 happened. A.J Brown joined the room and Watkins had an immediate glass ceiling placed over his head. Whether that played a role in his drop-off, I’m not sure, but it’s not like he had a drastically different workload to handle.

Watkins had 62 targets in 2021, and 51 in 2022. A drop of 11 considering how many mouths the offense had to feed, is almost a dream scenario for a former sixth-round pick turned starting slot receiver. But with only 11 fewer targets, his production dropped off a cliff from 647 yards to 354. His success rate dropped from 46.8% to 37.3% and the drops started to sneak in.

The thing is, Watkins had previously been the sole receiver to have any genuine deep-speed and upside to this offense, so he was elevated. But when a Minno is surrounded by Sharks, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Watkins was being called upon in the same way A.J Brown and DeVonta Smith were, but one had a Heisman to his name and broke the teams’ rookie receiving record, and the other was a proven monster. When those two were targeted, they were expected to convert. That same expectation could not be applied to Watkins and was instead replaced with hope.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) high fives Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

What now for Quez Watkins?

Fast forward to 2023. The Eagles signed former Falcons wideout, Olamide Zaccheaus, who did everything that Quez could but with a little more flash and consistency. The two battled it out in the offseason, but an injury to Watkins pushed OZ to the top of the pecking order.

He made the most of his first taste of Eagles action by scoring a touchdown, and now has 69 yards in his last 3 games. Watkins has 68 yards in his last 10 (Shoutout Brandon Lee Gowton).

When Watkins did make his return, it was met with disappointment. He was targeted 3 times in Sunday’s win over the Rams and gained 4 total yards. The viral clip of Watkins somehow being unable to follow a red-sea level opening for a conversion on a 3rd-and-2 screen only further reinforced the issue.

Sure, he can stretch the field with speed…but so can Zaccheaus. Sure, he can make game-changing plays, but he can also miss catches that break hearts instead of games. The bar has risen since Watkins arrived in Philadelphia, and he just hasn’t been able to keep pace.

It’s not Quez Watkins’ fault. But this Eagles team isn’t what it was back in 2020 when he burst onto the scene, or 2021 when he was able to emerge as the only other viable threat alongside DeVonta Smith. Greatness is now the standard in Philadelphia, not mediocrity. In the same way Greg Ward became expendable after a long and heartfelt tenure, Watkins is walking a near-identical path, with it becoming clearer by the week that the Eagles need more from him.

Eagles quez watkins
PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 12: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (16) celebrates his touchdown with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) during the preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Should Nick Sirianni move on?

So, what’s the solution? I don’t know. Nick Sirianni has been vocal in defending his decision to give Watkins snaps in spite of his poor play as any coach would, but at some point, a missed deep-ball or a confusing error is going to be one play too costly, and then it’s likely over to OZ to handle the workload from that moment on.

Maybe it doesn’t come to that and maybe this kind of piece only adds to the pressure. But it’s also absolutely fine for the Eagles to expect more out of their slot receiver, and absolutely fine that Watkins might just have hit his ceiling already, it’s just a case of when the team realizes it.