The state of the Eagles wide receiver corps is always a hot topic in the city of Philadelphia.
Early in Donovan McNabb's career, it seemed as if a big-play wide receiver was the one thing keeping the Eagles from a Super Bowl. The demand for a wide receiver peaked after the 2003 NFC Championship Game when the Eagles lost 14-3 to the Carolina Panthers. Donovan McNabb completed only 10 passes and was picked off by Ricky Manning Jr. three times. McNabb's receivers were bullied around as Freddie Mitchell was the only wideout with more than one reception.
The Eagles traded for Terrell Owens in 2004 and McNabb had his go-to weapon. McNabb had an amazing season, but the Eagles got over the NFC Championship hump and reached the Super Bowl despite the fact that Owens was sidelined with an injury. After the highly-publicized split between Owens and the Eagles, fans have clamored for another top-tier wideout to take his place.
DeSean Jackson may be the answer. After a breakout rookie season in 2008, Jackson has the speed, hands and tenacity to potentially develop into a go-to receiver. In fact, from top to bottom, McNabb has his deepest group of receivers in his career. Last year, McNabb threw for a single-season franchise record 3,916 yards with Jackson, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, Reggie Brown, Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis. The only player who will not be on the roster for the post-draft mini-camp is Lewis, who was traded to the Patriots.
After years of working every avenue possible to collect a good foundation of receivers, the Eagles have it in place. Here's a look at what they've acquired at the position through the draft during the Andy Reid era.
The first receiver drafted in the Reid era was Na Brown, a fourth-round pick in 1999 out of North Carolina. Brown certainly wasn't any sort of long-term solution at the position, but he did play in 42 games over the course of his three seasons in Philadelphia. Brown's biggest play was a 5-yard touchdown grab in the 2000 Wild Card win over the Bucs.
The Eagles drafted the lean and lanky Todd Pinkston in the second round of the 2000 draft. Pinkston wasn't physical enough to be a big-time receiver, but he showed at times that he could be a very productive No. 2 wideout. In 2002, Pinkston caught 60 passes for 798 yards and seven touchdowns. The problem is Pinkston never improved. He didn't have a single catch in the infamous Carolina game. With Owens in 2004, Pinkston was a good complement in terms of his ability to stretch the field as he averaged 18.8 yards per catch. He tore his Achilles in 2005 and was released the following training camp.
In 2001, the Eagles thought that they had their go-to guy of the future in Freddie Mitchell. The first-round pick out of UCLA is remembered more for his personality than his play, but he did carve out a nice niche as a slot receiver. The problem is there was too much talk and not enough "fourth-and-26" plays. Mitchell talked his way out of town after the 2004 season.
Looking for a taller threat, the Eagles drafted Billy McMullen in the third round of the 2003 draft out of Virginia. He had the ideal size (6-4, 210 pounds), but struggled in his rookie season and the potential never materialized into production.
The Eagles selected Reggie Brown in the second round of the 2005 draft out of Georgia. Brown broke the rookie franchise record for receptions by a wide receiver and improved upon those numbers over the next two seasons as he caught 61 balls for 780 yards and four touchdowns in 2007. However, Brown battled injury and ineffectiveness last season and lost his starting job. In fact, he was a healthy scratch for the NFC title game. Brown is in Philadelphia for the off-season conditioning program hoping to regain a starting job in '09.
The following year after the Eagles drafted Brown, they selected a pair of wideouts in Jason Avant and Jeremy Bloom. Avant has developed into a very good slot receiver. Avant's superb route running, physical play and great hands make him a valuable asset in tough situations. Bloom was supposed to be the answer at returner, but wasn't physical enough for the job.
Last year, the Eagles drafted Jackson with their second second-round pick out of Cal. Dynamic and explosive both as a receiver and a returner, Jackson broke Brown's rookie receptions record for a wide receiver with 62 catches for 912 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He added another score as a punt returner. Thrust into the starting lineup due to injuries, Jackson thrived in the spotlight and defied the challenges that usually plague rookies - the complex offense, the added games, etc.
When you look at the Eagles wide receivers from top to bottom, they may not have one receiver with all of the tools and measurables. But each player provides a skill set needed from the speedy wideout in Jackson to the tall, possession receiver in Hank Baskett. The Eagles do need to improve in the red zone, which could be a factor in what the Eagles decide to do. Do they want a receiver who can do it all? The issue is whether the Eagles would trade up for Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree or Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The Eagles could select Kenny Britt out of Rutgers, who is 6-3 and 218 pounds. Britt would vie for the role of physical, possession receiver. Of course, the Eagles could wait until the third or fourth round and snag the 6-6 Cal-Poly receiver Ramses Barden.
There are speedy wideouts available early like Florida's Percy Harvin, but again, the Eagles would have to invest a high draft pick and they did that on Jackson just last year.