Eagles Bye Week Breakdown: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When you consider Chip Kelly's preferred method of offense requires "11" personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR), the receiving group (both the wideouts and tight ends) has been his biggest failure in his first attempt at cobbling together an NFL roster.
The presumptive best option among the receivers for Sam Bradford is Jordan Matthews, a high-volume slot player who is prone to drops and isn't versatile enough to line up outside the numbers all that often.
And things drop sharply from there. Rookie first-round pick Nelson Agholor was overmatched early in the season before mercifully being shut down over the past few weeks with an ankle injury. Josh Huff has some athleticism but still looks like a running back trying to be a receiver, and Riley Cooper is a nice luxury to have as a blocker when say Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are on hand. However, when Cooper is forced to catch the football on a consistent basis, well you're in trouble.
Finally, veteran Miles Austin still understands how to play the game and Bradford trusts him but there is too much tread off those tires to expect Austin to take over a starting spot.
At tight end Philadelphia fans have been waiting for Zach Ertz to turn into the next Jimmy Graham but it's time to settle for the next Jordan Reed or someone of that ilk. Of course, even though Ertz is among the most overrated Eagles by the fan base, he's still the best receiving option Bradford has.
Veteran Brent Celek is descending as a player but he's still competent and more two tight-end sets should be the way Kelly leans because his receivers simply can't carry their own water at this point.
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The Eagles used "12" personnel (with the two tight ends) just 20 times in 242 plays over their first four games, 8.3 percent of the time. In games five and six, it was 55 of 155 plays (35.5 percent). And against Carolina is was almost even, the Eagles ran 11 personnel on 45 plays and 12 on 40 plays.
Part of that reality is due to the injury to Agholor and the fact that Cooper was banged up but Kelly is also finally getting the message, you can't put three mediocre-to-below receivers on the field at the same time and expect to succeed.
MVP: Ertz by default
Ertz is a good receiving tight end but that's his ceiling as a player. He's never going to be Graham or Tyler Eifert, the athleticism is just not there. He has worked hard on his blocking and while you're never going to be able to count on him pushing the pile as an in-line Y-back, Ertz can now seal the edge on occasion and that was big for his game because he is finally seeing more playing time than Celek for the first time. When the Eagles rebuild the receiving cops around him, Ertz should be even more effective.
Better Days to Come: Agholor
Agholor was thrown to the wolves early and wasn't ready for this level just yet. Last year's awe-inspiring rookie receiver class had many believing it could happen again in 2015 but that was specious thinking. Agholor remains a solid route runner for someone with his experience. Now he has to add strength to help him get off the line in press overage and develop more consistency catching the football. And that should all come with experience so don't give up on him just yet.
It's just not going to happen: Huff
Huff has the speed and athleticism to be a contributor but he seems to have had a tough time picking up a rather simple offense and remember he played for Kelly in college so that is an even bigger issue than the average player trying to make the jump from the college level. Huff is also not a natural route runner and looks clunky trying to catch the football so he projects as a guy you need to manufacture touches for and that kind of player is always going to be a specialist, not a part of the regular rotation.
Biggest Disappointment: Matthews
Those pushing Matthews as a legitimate No. 1 option in this league before the season began were either being disingenuous or simply don't understand football. Slot receivers by definition can't progress to that level and the Eagles rarely put Matthews outside the numbers because he's speed deficient.
Think of it this way, Randy Moss was a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, Wes Welker was not. It doesn't mean Matthews can't be a major contributor like Welker was because Bradford obviously has issues pushing the football down the field so chain movers like Matthews and Ertz need to be his best friends. The bigger problem for Matthews is that he has lost confidence and developed the yips when catching the football.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen