Taking Stock Of the Eagles’ WR Situation

DeSean JacksonWith Jeremy Maclin out for the year and Riley Cooper taking an indefinite leave of absence, the Eagles’ WR group has gone from one of the deeper units on the team to a question mark.

The team could add a player or two in the coming weeks, but given that it’s Aug. 4, there aren’t a lot of attractive options out there. Keeping that in mind, let’s take stock of where the current wide receivers on the roster stand.

DeSean Jackson – After a bit of a bumpy start with Chip Kelly in the spring, Jackson looks locked in, constantly beating Eagles’ defensive backs downfield and hauling in bombs from both Michael Vick and Nick Foles during practice sessions.

“I think he’s an explosive player,” Kelly said. “I think he’s very difficult to cover in one‑on‑one situations.  We’re trying to figure out as we get through what his comfort level is, what routes he feels really good with. I think we’re starting to get a feel for him. Quarterback’s getting a feel for him. Our coaching staff is getting a feel for him. I’m excited about what his future holds with us.”

It’s true that Kelly wants his quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly, and the Eagles look like they’ll run plenty of bubble screens to the wideouts. But they have not been shy about chucking it downfield either. When Jackson’s at his best, he’s one of the premier vertical threats in the game. That fact is not lost on Kelly.

Damaris Johnson – With Cooper gone, he took the majority of first-team reps opposite Jackson on Friday. In a small sample size (25.4 percent of the offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus), Johnson caught 19 balls on 28 targets for 256 yards as a rookie.

But would Mr. “Big people beat up little people” really want to play two starting wide receivers that measure in at 5-10 and 5-8, respectively?

“In the ideal world, no,” Kelly said. “I think I would love everybody to be MegaTron [Calvin Johnson]. If we had five of them, that would be a great situation. Again, that’s why I don’t know.  If we get to September 9 and those are our two best guys, we’re going to play with what we have.”

Johnson has had a good camp and seems to have solidified his grasp on a roster spot, but as Jimmy Kempski has detailed over at Philly.com, the size factor is an issue.

Jason Avant – You know what you’re getting with Avant. Reliable, tough, great hands. But his skills translate as a slot receiver only. Avant’s not posing much of a threat to opposing cornerbacks on the outside. A few weeks ago, I thought he could be a surprise cut. But that seems highly unlikely now.

Arrelious Benn – As the old saying goes, you can’t make the club in the tub.

When the Eagles acquired Benn from the Bucs, he said: “If I’m being honest with you, I don’t like my career. I’ve got to stay healthy. I haven’t stayed healthy. I’ve had a problem with injuries. When I was healthy and out there, I made plays. I was consistent. But the big thing for me is to stay healthy. It’s no secret for me, I know that. I’m going to be honest with myself. Just come in here and do what I’ve got to do.”

Benn has battled a knee injury during the first week of camp and has missed practice time. The truth is, if healthy, he’s got a great opportunity to resurrect what has been a disappointing career. He has size and is a good blocker. On the surface, Benn would be a nice complement to Jackson on the outside. But given how much Kelly values practice time, he faces an uphill battle if he can’t stay healthy.

No option is off the table right now with Benn. He could be starting Week 1. He could be off the team.

Russell Shepard – I had him as my deep sleeper even before camp started, and Shepard has not disappointed this summer. He’s shown great hands, consistency and the ability to line up in a variety of places. Shepard’s performance in the preseason will go a long way in determining his standing on the roster, but based on what we’ve seen so far, Kelly is going to have a really difficult time cutting him.

Ifeanyi Momah – Standing on the sidelines, I overhear a lot of fan conversations during camp practices. And the one guy whose name constantly comes up is Momah.

At 6-7, 239, with 4.40 speed, he’s got the attention of the Eagles’ faithful.

The key with Momah is finding a way to capitalize on those measurables. He hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years, and the speed, specifically, has not shown up on the practice field. I can’t remember having seen Momah run past defenders during any team drills.

Having said that, he had probably his best practice on Friday, making a nice adjustment on a deep ball for a touchdown near the end of practice.

Momah would add an element (size) the other receivers on the roster don’t possess. But he’ll have to prove to the coaches over the next several weeks that he’s worthy of a roster spot.

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Dave Ball, Nick Miller, Greg Salas and Will Murphy are the other receivers in camp, but they are all longshots to make the roster.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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