Eagles Wake-Up Call: WR Depth Chart Analysis
Projected starters: Jordan Matthews (slot), Nelson Agholor, Rueben Randle
Reserves: Chris Givens, T.J. Graham, Josh Huff, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones, Jonathan Krause, Xavier Rush, Hunter Sharp, and Paul Turner.
Obviously, the Agholor sexual assault allegation could drastically change the Eagles’ outlook at this position, but it remains to be seen what will happen — if anything — and when. The most recent bit of news on this front was a few weeks ago when Philly Mag’s David Gambacorta reported the investigation had been handed over to District Attorney Seth Williams.
On the field, Agholor and Randle appear to be the two strongest candidates to line up on the outside while Matthews is in the slot. While Randle caught eight touchdown passes last season and was labeled “a pleasant surprise” by Doug Pederson during minicamp, he’s inconsistent and didn’t develop the best reputation with the Giants. Randle previously said his demeanor was misunderstood, although he was benched for missing meetings and he reportedly “struggled to earn Eli Manning’s trust.”
Huff, whom Pederson said is “probably another one that’s going to be inside,” is another big question mark in a position group full of them. If backup slot is Huff’s best shot at entering the game, and he doesn’t show much during training camp or preseason to earn more opportunities, he may not be in Philadelphia next season.
What I think will happen
Tim and I have the same five guys making the roster at receiver in our initial 53-man roster projections: Matthews, Agholor, Randle, Givens and Huff. There are plenty of reps to go until these decisions are actually made, but I’d be pretty surprised if that’s not the group after final cuts.
I’m not very high on this group, but I do think Agholor — assuming he’s available — will take a significant step forward this season and beat out Randle on the outside. Perhaps one of the undrafted free agents could unexpectedly contribute, but I see Agholor as one offensive player who really needs to step up if the Eagles want to compete for a division title this year.
One thing that will be interesting to follow is how Pederson deploys his receivers. Last season under Chip Kelly, per Pro Football Focus, Huff was most frequently targeted on screens, Agholor was most often targeted on hitches and Matthews was typically targeted on crossing routes.
WHAT YOU MISSED
“The Redskins have bodies, for sure. But it’s unknown how many of them are difference-makers.” NFC East Roundup.
“On a team with Fletcher Cox, Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks, Malcolm Jenkins may very well be the best defender on the roster.” Weekend Reading.
“It’s been really, really powerful for those guys.” Tim on the Eagles’ trip out west to San Diego.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Speaking of that west coast trip, Les Bowen of the Daily News says the players that traveled made a big impression on trainer Todd Durkin.
“They were all extremely disciplined in getting their work done,” said Durkin, who hosted a similar but smaller Eagles group last July, organized by then-Eagles QB Mark Sanchez. “They were here early and they stayed late.”
Durkin said his approach to training is “putting hungry guys in a room that’s not the biggest weight room . . . I challenge ’em to be their best. These workouts are not easy; the tempo is high-paced, it’s hard. I’m trying to pick apart things that they’re weak in, that they’re not good at . . . trying to get in their heads as much as their bodies.”
In addition to lifting, stretching and recovery work at Durkin’s gym, the players ran pass patterns at a nearby high school turf field, directed by the QBs. All told, they worked 4 to 6 hours a day, Durkin said.
“I really like Todd, because he’s the type of trainer that doesn’t care about pro athletes being comfortable every day,” wideout Jordan Matthews said after returning to the Philly area. “So every day is going to be a grind, and you have to bring high energy to every workout. The other thing I love about him is that he’s going to bring high energy, too.
“He’s great at challenging his guys to go against what they think is conventional offseason training – a workout here and there, vacations in between, only working out in the areas that the guys enjoy. He pushes the limits, so the guys understand really quickly that he doesn’t care who you are, all he cares about is attacking the day with unbelievable effort and a positive attitude.”
Rookie running back Wendell Smallwood can be compared to Cleveland’s Duke Johnson, writes Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com.
At West Virginia, as we showed in a film breakdown of Smallwood’s game, the Mountaineers didn’t take advantage of Smallwood’s receiving abilities, at least during his final season there. On pass plays, they would often simply send him out into the flat as a safety valve, and little more.
Smallwood explained, “I didn’t get to do it a lot this past year, but in my sophomore year, (West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen) said I was the best slot receiver we had. If I wasn’t in at running back, I would have definitely been in the slot … My junior year, he needed me to run the ball, so I didn’t get to do it a lot.”
In his first year in the NFL, Duke Johnson racked up 61 catches for 534 yards and two receiving touchdowns, although he didn’t carry the ball all that much. As a runner, he only had 104 carries for 379 yards (3.6 YPC) and no TDs.
I believe Smallwood will have a similar pass-catching role in the Eagles’ offense that Johnson has in Cleveland.
From an Eagles comparative perspective, Smallwood has some similarities to Wilbert Montgomery, who was also an accomplished pass catcher in a smaller body, at 5’10, 195.
Chris takes a look at reasonable expectations for Doug Pederson.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.