Whether or not you buy into the analytics-based ratings provided by Pro Football Focus, a note emerged the other day that warrants a deeper dive: The Eagles' wide receiver corps was ranked No. 1 in the NFL by the website that has become an industry leader in football analysis.
This is what PFF wrote about the wide receivers:
"The Eagles took steps this offseason to improve what was already an above-average unit in 2018 with the additions of DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Jackson showed last year that he hasn't lost a step, leading all NFL players with 50-plus targets in average depth of target at 19.6 yards while grading 25th at the position. Arcega-Whiteside came in at 23rd on the PFF Big Board after hauling in a draft class-leading 19 contested catches in 2018."
What in the name of James Thrash and Todd Pinkston (and no disrespect to those two, but, you know …) is going on here???
Here is the answer: The Eagles have taken various avenues to build up their receiving corps, understanding the importance of depth and unselfishness and versatility. And that approach has put this pass-catching group in a position of winning, as we can talk about here.
"It's about building depth at every position," Howie Roseman said. "That's what we are here to do. We want to have as many quality players on this roster as we can possibly have."
The Eagles feel great about the wide receiver group, a position that's been under construction for a number of years. The current iteration started taking shape in 2015 when the Eagles used the 20th overall draft pick to select USC's Nelson Agholor. As Agholor developed, and he didn't truly find his stride until the 2017 campaign, the Eagles struggled to find explosive elements to add to the passing game at wide receiver. A huge piece arrived in 2017 when Alshon Jeffery signed on as an unrestricted free agent, and the Eagles also added Torrey Smith in free agency and, voila, a Super Bowl-winning wide receiving corps was formed. But the Eagles needed more, and they knew it.
The 2018 Eagles suffered some key injuries – with Smith gone, Mike Wallace was signed and never contributed after suffering a significant leg injury in Week 2, Mack Hollins didn't play at all, and 2017 draft pick Shelton Gibson didn't crack the rotation – and the passing game lagged. The outside threat wasn't there as much with only Jeffery – who missed the opening three games recovering from a shoulder injury – and Agholor in the mix.
Check out what the wide receivers have been up to so far during camp!
This offseason, then, the Eagles decided they needed to make something happen. They did just that by trading for Jackson, a speed threat who opens up the entire field. Then the Eagles used their second second-round draft pick on Arcega-Whiteside, who has been impressive in this Training Camp.
All of a sudden, the Eagles have a tentative first unit of Jackson and Jeffery on the outside with Agholor coming out of the slot. Jackson can also slide inside and Agholor can play outside, creating some potential matchup advantages against certain defensive backfields. Arcega-Whiteside has shown up every day in Training Camp and has shown that this moment isn't too big for him.
The Eagles have four wide receivers, then, who they can interchange and use in a variety of ways with confidence. Behind that foursome is where the intrigue really lies and the competition is intense to watch in Camp. A fifth and potentially sixth roster spot at wide receiver is going to be won in the four preseason games and so, yes, the preseason games mean something here.
"I think we've got danger up and down our room," Jackson said. "I've never been around a group that has this much talent. We're deep, man. It's been fun to be part of so far. We all need to stay healthy and keep competing and working hard, because we know we have a long way to go before the regular season starts."
Quarterback Carson Wentz should have a strong arsenal of targets in the passing game this season. He knows how talented his pass-catching group is – and when you include tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, it takes the receiving corps to another, extreme level – and Wentz understands that his job is to be the point guard and distribute the football to the playmakers.
"We have a lot of weapons here. It's great to see how it's all coming together," Wentz said. "It's a really talented group."
Apparently, at least in the eyes of the folks at Pro Football Focus and to anyone who has watched Training Camp in the last week, it's as good as any group around. Is it the best top-to-bottom group of wide receivers in recent Eagles history? Time will tell, but the group certainly is talented on paper.
"I think we can get you in a lot of ways," Jeffery said of the Eagles' offense. "We just all need to do our part, do our jobs. The rest will take of itself. I think we have a lot of great players here. It's fun to be a part of it."
For anyone who has been an Eagles fan for longer than a few years, this is quite a development. And if you remember back to the Pinkston, Thrash, and Freddie Mitchell days, then this is just pure jubilation. The Eagles have done a great job building their wide receiver corps, and people who follow the NFL – in and out of the league – are taking notice.