Coming into the offseason, the No. 1 objective for the Eagles' front office was to surround quarterback Carson Wentz with more weapons. The Eagles got off to a phenomenal start of doing just that as free agency opened on Tuesday with the additions of wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Both players bring elements to the Eagles' offense that were sorely needed on the outside - a consistent jump-ball threat and a burner with vertical ability. Let's take a look at the impact the two wideouts can have on Wentz and the Eagles this fall.
Shot 1 - Jeffery is certainly someone that's always open, even when he's not. One of the best 'go up and get it' WRs in the NFL #Eagles pic.twitter.com/CTLmoIsv0r — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
I have to start with Jeffery, who was considered by most analysts to be the top receiver available on the free agent market. Coming to the Eagles with a résumé that includes 13 100-yard receiving games in his career, the Pro Bowl wideout is one of the best in the league when it comes to going up and attacking the football in the air.
I made the assertion in the tweet above that Jeffery is always open, even when he isn't. He has the ability to go up and win in those contested situations as one of the most reliable jump-ball receivers in the league.
Shot 2 - Then you have Torrey Smith, who brings the vertical speed the #Eagles need. Does a great job w/ vertical stem to separate for TDs pic.twitter.com/mtzXQGir8c — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
Jeffery wins in what some analysts and evaluators refer to as the "big man's" game as a receiver, while Smith on the other hand typically wins in the "small man's" game, gaining separation with his feet rather than with his length. Smith has been one of the best deep-ball receivers in the NFL during his career, not only because of his speed but also because of his route running. The veteran does a great job at the top of his route of attacking the cornerback on both of those touchdown catches above, forcing him to break down out of his technique. Smith gains the separation he needs downfield for a pair of big-play touchdowns.
Shot 3 - Studying both WRs I couldn't help but notice how good they were at using their bodies. Very similar looking plays here down the SL pic.twitter.com/GE3D9R6xBT — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
As I continued studying these two receivers, it became apparent that both were very adept at using their bodies to their advantage, despite the fact that they're built very differently. Down the sideline, both players do a great job of giving the quarterback room on the outside to drop the football in over the shoulder, a technique that's called "holding the red line." The imaginary "red line" between the numbers and the sideline is where the receiver should be running along on these vertical routes. It requires both strength and discipline as well as ball skills to be able to hold the line downfield, run through contact at times, and then reel the pass in over the shoulder for the completion. Jeffery and Smith do just that in the plays above.
One of the other big themes after studying both players was their versatility. In every part of the field, Smith and Jeffery were used by their previous coaching staffs both outside and in the slot, and they were productive inside.
Shot 4 - Both WRs also have plenty of experience in the slot, giving the coaches positional versatility. Smith's speed inside is lethal pic.twitter.com/V8lTqJ1nZN — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
Shot 5 - Jeffery, meanwhile, was a really tough matchup in the slot due to his size. Tough to stop on wheel routes with room to run #Eagles pic.twitter.com/psQg2qdpC5 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
In the first clip, Smith wins vertically from the slot with his speed. Whether it's down the seam or on deep corner routes, his explosiveness makes him a tough matchup inside. Jeffery, on the other hand, presents a big-bodied threat in the slot very similar to what the Eagles do with Jordan Matthews. Slot corners have a tough time with him. On wheel routes, when the corner has a wider area of ground to cover, it's really tough to deal with a man that big and that strong when you're unsure of where he's going.
It is unfair to pigeonhole either receiver into specific roles. Torrey Smith is more than just a deep threat, and Alshon is more than just a jump-ball guy!
Shot 6 - Let's not get things twisted though, because Smith isn't just a vertical guy. He can win in the quick game w/ toughness & technique pic.twitter.com/TGaAV6xl9V — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
Smith beats press coverage with technique, by running through contact, creating a sliver of separation on a slant route, and making a tough catch at the goal line on an in-breaking route where a hit may be coming from the safety. He's being held on the play, but he's able to complete the catch for a touchdown.
Shot 7 - Likewise, Jeffery isn't just a possession WR. Averaged 15 ypc 3x in 5 yrs. Makes catches downfield even when safety rolls overtop pic.twitter.com/hlnBIioEHS — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
Jeffery also offers some vertical ability. His potential to be a threat at every area of the field starts with his willingness to go up and get the football. The veteran has averaged over 15 yards per catch three times in his five-year career. He can get downfield and make plays (he did so multiple times against the Eagles last September). Even when the safety is rolled over top of him like in the play above, he's still a threat when he gets a head of steam in the open field.
Before I wrap this up, let's go back to where this piece started, and that's where the Eagles added two pieces to their offense that they sorely needed. With Smith, they now have a vertical threat who can consistently attack downfield. That is an advantage for any offense when he is targeted, but it also helps the rest of the receiving corps as well.
Shot 8 - This is important. #Eagles love 3-level stretch and now have a field stretcher in Smith. Takes top of defense here last year in SF pic.twitter.com/XziHCRL7mN — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
The Eagles are a huge "three-level stretch" team (explanation here), and Smith will have a huge impact on those concepts because of his vertical ability. Here with San Francisco, you see the effect he has on the defense. He helps widen a huge gap in the intermediate area of the field for the intended target, a tight end on an over route. This could be Matthews, it could be Zach Ertz, or it could be Jeffery, but other receivers will benefit from Smith's speed being on the field.
Shot 9 - Jeffery is always a threat down in the red zone, whether it's with fades at the pylon or big-bodied slants. Huge target for Wentz. pic.twitter.com/vkA3amMk00 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 9, 2017
With an open-field threat in hand with Smith, the Eagles also got a player who can consistently win in tight quarters with Jeffery. This is another aspect of the Eagles' offense that was sorely lacking in 2016, and now they have a consistent jump-ball threat on the outside. That will be particularly valuable down in the red zone. Here, the threat of Jeffery potentially running a fade is going to have any corner nervous down near the goal line, but he busts this inside for a quick slant route for a touchdown. At the end of the day, the Eagles became a much better football on Thursday.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.