The magical transformation of the Eagles' wide receiver corps

·5 min read

The magical transformation of the Eagles' WR corps originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It was only two years ago that the Eagles’ wide receivers were Travis Fulgham, Greg Ward, Jalen Reagor, DeSean Jackson, John Hightower, Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone.

All gone.

That 2020 season was a nightmare for a lot of reasons. Just three years after they won the Super Bowl, the Eagles went 4-11-1 and finished last in the NFC East.

When general manager Howie Roseman surveyed the wreckage after the season, he knew a lot of changes had to be made. It started with firing Doug Pederson and trading Carson Wentz, but it went deeper than that.

Roseman also came to the sobering realization that the Eagles’ wide receivers were just awful.

And if Jalen Hurts was going to have any kind of success as the Eagles’ quarterback, he was going to have to completely overhaul the wide receiver position.

And here we are.

“I think obviously (we had) a lot of resources used at that position,” Roseman said earlier this week. “I feel like it was necessary to make sure that we gave Jalen an opportunity to play with (talented) guys around him.”

And Roseman has devoted the last two offseasons in large part to reshaping the wide receiver room.

Quez Watkins is the only wide receiver left from 2020, and he didn’t even play until the last few weeks of his rookie year. And Watkins and DeVonta Smith are the only wideouts left even from last year.

Incredibly, the only current Eagles wide receiver to ever catch a pass from Wentz is Zach Pascal — and it happened when they were Colts.

“It’s been crazy,” said Dallas Goedert, the Eagles’ only skill player left from 2018. “Coming in here as a young guy, seeing all the vets and slowly getting to a bunch of young guys where I’m the vet of the skill positions.”

Roseman jettisoned Jackson and Jeffery soon after the 2020 season ended and then drafted Smith in the first round. Fulgham, who had been their leading receiver in 2020 thanks to an improbable five-game monster run, was released after training camp, and has since bounced around to the Dolphins, Broncos and Packers without catching a pass.

The WR remake continued over the past few months with the blockbuster A.J. Brown trade and contract extension, the underrated addition of Pascal and the trades to unload former big-time draft disappointments Reagor and Arcega-Whiteside for some late-round picks.

“They’re all hungry, they’re all playmakers and they all want to make plays,” Hurts said Thursday. “I think with the group we have it’s still with that hunger, that desire to do this at a high level, so that’s what I like about them. They’re all hungry.”

The Eagles’ four leading receivers in 2020 — Fulgham, Ward, Reagor and Jackson — combined for 1,590 yards.

Their four leading receivers now — Brown, Smith, Watkins and Pascal — combined for 2,816 yards last year.

“I feel good about the character of those guys,” Roseman said. “I feel good about the level of play that those guys can bring to our team, and they complement each other really well, which I think is important.”

More: Smith reveals the best thing Brown has taught him

This group gives the Eagles a lot of flexibility because Brown, Watkins and Pascal can all play either inside or outside. The Eagles can give defenses a lot of different looks by moving guys around.

“With all of us being able to play every position, everybody being able to do everything, it makes it hard for defenses to just focus on one guy because they have to worry about everybody,” Smith said.

Wide receiver has been an issue for the Eagles for years.

They haven’t had a 1,000-yard WR since Jeremy Maclin in 2014, and no NFL team has gone longer without a 1,000-yard receiver. The 49ers also haven’t had one since 2014 (Anquan Boldin).

They haven’t had a Pro Bowler since Jackson in 2013.

And they’ve never had three wideouts with 700 yards in the same season, something that certainly seems possible this year.

Only one of the Eagles’ 2020 wide receivers is currently on a 53-man roster.

Jackson and Jeffery are no longer in the league, Hightower isn’t currently on a roster, Ward is on the Eagles’ injured list, Fulgham is on the Packers’ practice squad, Arcega-Whiteside is on the Seahawks’ practice squad and Reagor is on the Vikings’ roster.

In just 20 months, the Eagles have gone from the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL to one of the best.

They’ve also gone from the fourth-most expensive — $30 million combined cap figure in 2020 — to reasonably priced at $12.6 million this year, 24th-most expensive.

Roseman is responsible for the Reagor and JJAW picks, and they were disasters. But he’s also managed to reshape the position very quickly and make up for past mistakes.

“We’ve got a really good group,” Goedert said. “Smitty coming in last year, kind of took the room by storm, took it over in terms of leadership, then bringing in A.J.? We’ve got people who are continuing to grow and get better. Smitty, A.J., Zach, Quez, we’ve got a good group there that they each have their own strengths, and I’m excited to see them all excel in different ways.”

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