Taking a closer look at the new-look Eagles’ receiving corps
When the Eagles take the field in a prime-time clash with the San Francisco 49ers, viewers will probably be hard-pressed to identify several of the skill players in the huddle.
Ascending third-year tight end Dallas Goedert is on injured reserve with a fractured ankle, while wide receivers DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and Alshon Jeffery (foot) have been ruled out for Sunday night. Even second-year receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (calf) is listed as doubtful.
Though the cupboard may be bare in terms of playmakers, the Eagles must find a way to manufacture some offense to remain competitive. Without further ado, let's take a look at the current crop of Eagles' wide receivers.
Greg Ward -- No. 84
Measurement: 5'11", 186 lbs. | Years Pro: 4 | Career Games: 10 (5 starts)
Career Numbers: 42 receptions for 363 yards and two touchdowns (59 targets, 427 snaps)
2020 Numbers: 14 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown (19 targets, 119 snaps)
The Eagles may have waived Ward on six different occasions before latching on late in 2019, but he deserved a roster spot as an undrafted rookie over the likes of Shelton Gibson. Regardless, Ward has carved out a niche as a dependable slot receiver who has earned the trust of quarterback Carson Wentz.
Ward, who doesn't boast top-end speed or prototypical size, is a former college quarterback who views the game differently than many at his position. The fourth-year receiver has a profound understanding of reading coverage, route concepts, depth, and his innate ability to find the soft spot in zone. Ward's football intellect, coupled with his spatial awareness and innate ability to find the soft spot in zone are why his transition has been so seamless.
While Ward has prominently been billed as an inside receiver, he proved he can separate and make plays on the outside when given the opportunity. Now the Eagles' de facto No. 1 wide receiver for the time being, Ward's dependability, knowledge of the game, and budding rapport with Wentz should lead to continued success.
John Hightower -- No. 82
Measurement: 6'2", 190 lbs. | Years Pro: R | Career Games: 3 (1 start)
Career Numbers: 3 receptions for 17 yards (7 targets, 112 snaps)
2020 Numbers: 3 receptions for 17 yards (7 targets, 112 snaps)
Though injuries have prompted to Eagles to get more mileage out of their fifth-round rookie than initially anticipated, Hightower has flashed potential amid inevitable growing pains.
In his NFL debut against Washington, Hightower, who played 27 snaps, looked every bit the part of a late-round pick overwhelmed by the spotlight. Still, he yielded four targets -- finishing with one reception for negative yardage -- and nearly out-snapped 2019 second-round pick, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
The following week, Hightower played just seven snaps against the Rams.
However, in last week's clash with the Cincinnati Bengals, Hightower lead the receiving corps in snaps (78). The Boise State product was targeted three times and caught two passes for 19 yards. Upon further review, perhaps the most encouraging news to emerge from the dismal tie was that Hightower managed to separate downfield on multiple occasions. Whether the disconnect can be attributed to chemistry issues, poor field vision, or lack of trust, Wentz needs to pull the trigger and give his pass-catchers a chance to make a play.
Hightower's length, positional versatility, and history of manufacturing yards out of the backfield on jet sweeps should be relied on heavily against the 49ers. As the only speed receiver active, the Eagles must capitalize on Hightower's strengths and stretch the San Francisco secondary.
Deontay Burnett -- No. 16
Measurement: 6'0", 186 lbs. | Years Pro: 3 | Career Games: 7 (2 starts)
Career Numbers: 15 receptions for 210 yards (23 targets, 182 snaps)
2020 Numbers: 3 receptions for 19 yards (4 targets, 39 snaps)
The USC alum has spent time with four teams since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018 but appears to have a long-term future in Philadelphia.
Despite a convincing training camp showing, Burnett found himself on the outs on cutdown day. However, the Eagles opted to retain his services, signing the third-year receiver to the practice squad days later. As injuries continued to decimate the receiving corps, Burnett earned a promotion to the active roster once again.
Burnett, who reeled in three passes following his call-up, will be active for his second time in as many weeks.
Although he lacks size and explosive traits, Burnett is a savvy route runner that relies on nuanced subtleties to create separation. He has a firm grasp on the offense and has demonstrated secure hands in his limited opportunities. While he isn't a viable field-stretcher, Burnett can be a trusty option on short-intermediate routes.
Travis Fulgham -- No. 13
Measurement: 6'2", 215 lbs. | Years Pro: 2 | Career Games: 3
Career Numbers: N/A (63 snaps)
2020 Numbers: N/A (elevated to active roster 10/3)
Initially a sixth-round selection of the Lions in the 2019 draft, Fulgham spent time between the active roster and practice squad as a rookie, making his NFL debut in a Week 15 matchup with the Buccaneers.
Though hardly considered a field-stretcher, Fulgham is a precise route runner with above-average body control and thrives in contested-catch situations. With one breakout season on his collegiate resume and a limited sample size at the professional ranks, however, he is still considered a relative unknown.
The Eagles' receiving corps is short on size, so adding a big-bodied receiver that can run should help to open things up vertically and present a matchup conundrum in the red zone.
RB/WR Adrian Killins -- No. 46
Measurement: 5'8", 177 lbs. | Years Pro: R | Career Games: 0
Career Numbers: N/A (elevated to active roster 10/3)
Generously listed at 5-foot-8, 177 pounds, Killins served as an all-purpose weapon over his four-year career at Central Florida. As a senior, Killins logged 87 carries for 629 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and added eight receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. He also yielded 206 yards on 11 kick returns, parlaying a productive senior campaign into an invitation to participate in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Killins enjoyed a productive week of Shrine practices, where he showcased his explosiveness in space and natural receiving prowess. The Florida native recorded seven receptions for 92 yards in the all-star game.
Despite Killins' consistency and on-field impact over his four-year collegiate career, he failed to receive an invite to the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine -- an event where Killins would have been a legitimate contender to record the fastest 40-yard dash. His Pro Day, another chance to dazzle evaluators, was wiped away by the coronavirus pandemic.
The diminutive running back, who entered training camp at a distinct disadvantage, proved enough in a truncated offseason to resurface on the practice squad.
With injuries largely gutting the Eagles' offense, Killins was elevated to the active roster on Saturday in hopes of adding another explosive piece on offense. But don't expect the Eagles to utilize Killins as a traditional running back. Instead, look for the team scheme up ways to get him in space to take advantage of his receiving ability and create mismatches -- particularly in the slot and on wheel routes.