Eagles Training Camp Preview: Wide Receivers
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The modern NFL has evolved (or devolved depending on who you're talking to) into a game where receivers flood the field in an attempt to get athletes in space.
The result in Philadelphia -- like most cities -- is perhaps the most talented receiving group in franchise history but yet one that is probably little more than middle-of-the-road when compared against the rest of the league.
The group is led by rangy, big-play threat Alshon Jeffery, who delivered when it mattered most despite playing his first season in Philadelphia with a torn rotator cuff which required surgery in the offseason. Jeffery was unable to do any offseason work other than playing catch with Carson Wentz on occasions but he is expected to be a full-go for the regular season.
The trade of the well-liked Jordan Matthews opened up the slot for Nelson Agholor, who took off as a playmaker after two disastrous seasons trying to play outside the numbers.
THE NEW DEEP THREAT
Veteran Torrey Smith, meanwhile, was a run-of-the-mill deep threat who was inconsistent catching the football and replaced by the much more accomplished Mike Wallace this time around, making the Eagles' receiving group when more impactful.
Wallace has cracked the 1,000-yard mark on three occasions, reached the Pro Bowl back in 2011 and even broke the bank a couple of times in free agency.
Set to turn 32 on August 1, however, now it's about the ring for the Ole Miss product, something he explained after signing a one-year deal which could be worth up to $4 million with the Eagles back in March.
“When you’re young, you have a different agenda,” Wallace said when asked by 973espn.com what he learned during his previous forays in free agency. “I didn’t try to come to this game to leave empty-handed. I had to secure the bag [money], and I did that. Now it’s time to try to secure a ring.”
Wallace has been close before, coming up on the short end of Super Bowl XLV when his Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers. As his football mortality approaches, he's intent on punctuating the resume.
"Those guys have Super Bowl meetings and I'm not invited," he joked of his new teammates before a scheduled trip to the White House was nixed.
Wallace will be joining an explosive offense which already features a top receiver in Jeffery, one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the game in Zach Ertz and an ever-emerging slot threat in Agholor. His role is to replace Smith as the deep threat who opens up everything underneath whether it's Carson Wentz or Nick Foles throwing the football.
"With Mike, obviously the first thing that jumps out to you about Mike is his speed," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "So, we feel like that gives us a home run threat. Much the same way that Torrey did. So, we're still getting to know Mike and his game, and he's still trying to learn the system, so that will be an evolution there."
While Smith, now in Carolina after the trade that brought Daryl Worley home for a short time, was a thoughtful presence and good teammate he simply is not the same player as Wallace, a home-run hitter miscast as a WR1 at times during his career.
As a complementary piece in Philadelphia Wallace should be an excellent short-term fit for Philadelphia as second-year receiver Mack Hollins continues to progress.
As for potential options for the back end of the 53-man roster Pederson singled out three second-year players, including 2017 fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson.
"[I] went into this off-season wanting to look at a lot of our younger players, obviously, from a year ago," the coach said. "I think guys like Rashard Davis and Greg Ward come to mind, Shelton Gibson come to mind, that have had really good springs."
Gibson credited Agholor for helping him get his head straight.
“[Agholor] asked me a couple of weeks ago when we first came back [for the spring], if I’m doing everything I can do to be great,” Gibson explained. “I told him, `no.’ He told me from this day forward, don’t let that be the thing. So I started coming in early with him, me and Greg Ward. And ever since then, I’ve been progressing, progressing, progressing."
With the constant stream of three-, four- and even five-wide receiver sets at times these days, versatility is important for and WR, especially in Pederson's offense, which is more complicated than most.
The traditional roles of X (split end), Z (flanker) and Y (tight end) remain but are more multiple. The expertise of the Eagles' various receivers is listed in the depth chart below.
WR1/Z Alshon Jeffery - The Eagles top receiver played his best as the season wore on despite playing with a shoulder injury.
WR2/X Mike Wallace - Veteran speed receiver who figures to be an upgrade over Torrey Smith.
WR3/Slot Nelson Agholor - Took off after two disappointing seasons when moved to the slot.
WR4/X Mack Hollins - Came to Philadelphia very raw but Eagles love his upside.
ON THE BUBBLE:
WR5 Markus Wheaton - Injuries have derailed his career. If healthy he might be the team's best route runner with the versatility to play all over.
WR6/X Shelton Gibson - Far more comfortable in his second season. Learning curve was steep as a rookie due to rudimentary WVU offense.
WR7/X Bryce Treggs - Undersized speed threat who faces a tough numbers game.
WR8/Slot Greg Ward - Former University of Houston QB who is an intriguing slot option.
WR9/Z Marquess Wilson - Lengthy veteran receiver who looks the part physically.
PRACTICE SQUAD HOPEFULS:
WR10/Slot Rashard Davis - Ability to return makes him more valuable.
WR11/Z Anthony Mahoungou - Paris native with imposing 6-foot-3 size.
WR12/Slot Tim Wilson - Radnor High product who has already beaten the odds by making the 90-man offseason roster after a tryout at rookie camp
POSITION GRADE: 6.5
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen