At one point during the 80 snaps he played on Monday night against the New York Giants, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside looked around and realized he had the longest consecutive tenure on the Eagles' active roster of any of the other healthy wide receiver(s) on the field.
"It was pretty crazy," Arcega-Whiteside said on Wednesday as he was interviewed for the upcoming Eagles Insider Podcast presented by Lincoln Financial Group. "We've just had a lot of guys go down, so you have to make sure you're ready and do what you have to do."
It's not going to get better for the wide receiver corps, not any time soon, it appears. DeSean Jackson is on Injured Reserve, done for the regular season. Alshon Jeffery suffered a "significant" injury as he came off the line of scrimmage in the first half against the Giants, so he's out of the picture (Editor's note: Jeffery was placed on Injured Reserve on Thursday). Nelson Agholor said his knee is at a "stalemate" when asked if he felt better than he did a week prior, so that sounds ominous with regard to Agholor playing Sunday against Washington.
Right now, at this very moment, the Eagles have Arcega-Whiteside, a rookie, and Greg Ward, who's been on the 53-man roster for four games and 145 offensive snaps this season, as their only healthy wide receivers. They've been cross-training Joshua Perkins, a tight end by trade who's got some receiver in his background and who is able to line up across the formation and contribute. There are three wide receivers on the practice squad (Editor's note: Robert Davis was promoted from the practice squad on Thursday).
We're getting late in the week here, and the Eagles are going to have to add to the active roster. Logic says it's going to be a receiver or two from the practice squad, but who knows? The Eagles have an emergency list.
In this case, they may have to go to the emergency, emergency list.
"It's like our cornerback position last season when that group was decimated," head coach Doug Pederson said. "This year it's our wide receivers. No excuses, though. We have to play with what we have and we will."
What the Eagles have is Arcega-Whiteside, who has six receptions and a touchdown in his last four games and eight total in his rookie season, Ward, who has 11 catches for 72 yards in the last three weeks, and a hybrid receiver/tight end in Perkins, who is a terrific athlete and a reliable pass catcher who had a career-high five receptions on Monday night. Prior to this year, Perkins had five receptions last season for the Eagles and caught three passes with a touchdown in 2016 with Atlanta.
That's a total of 30 NFL receptions for a threesome that figures to get most of the playing time Sunday in a down-the-stretch game with huge meaning for the tied-for-first-place Eagles.
"We're here and we're professionals," said Ward, a game-breaking quarterback at the University of Houston who has made the admirable transition to wide receiver at the highest level of the game. "We're going out there to do our jobs. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We're here to produce for the offense."
As the Eagles head into the final three games of this regular season, the offense they constructed with such vision and care in the spring and summer months barely exists. Jackson played, really, one game. Jeffery played in 10 games with 43 receptions and four touchdowns. Agholor has 39 catches and three touchdowns in 11 games. Mack Hollins is now with the Miami Dolphins.
A receiver corps ranked No. 1 in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, the industry metrics bible, if you will, has been shattered by injuries.
And yet the Eagles look ahead with optimism.
"We all have worked hard to get to this point and now it's about taking advantage of your opportunity," Ward said. "We're going to go out there and be where we're supposed to be and make plays for the offense. We're here for a reason."
All three have had their distinct journeys. Ward has 16 transactions listed in his bio – the amount of times he's been signed, waived, added to the practice squad, released, promoted, etc. – since signing with the Eagles following the 2017 NFL Draft. Perkins joined the NFL as an undrafted rookie with Atlanta in 2016 and he's been signed, waived, promoted, sent to Injured Reserve, etc. … nine times in his career.
Arcega-Whiteside was the 57th player selected in the 2019 NFL Draft and he's had an up-and-down rookie season. Arcega-Whiteside takes his job extremely seriously, so he's not allowed himself a lot of downtime and instead is doing everything he can do to prepare himself, improve himself, and contribute to the offense.
It is said that a rookie season whizzes by for a rookie? Not J.J.
"I wouldn't say that at all. It's been great, intense, and everything I wanted, but it's a long season," he said. "We're getting ready to play our 14th game. That's a lot of football. You invest everything you have into making sure your body is right and that you're on top of your game, improving your technique, and working at it. I'm working to improve all the time."
Perkins has learned not to ever, ever, ever get too comfortable in the NFL. In 2018, he started the season on the team's active roster and then had four catches for 57 yards in a Week 2 loss at Tampa Bay. Good stuff, right? Perkins played 31 snaps the following week and then his playing time dwindled and his targets went to zero and he was eventually placed on Injured Reserve in November.
Yet, he signed back with the Eagles on the practice squad in September, understanding how loaded the Eagles were at tight end and wide receiver.
"I felt I would definitely have an opportunity at some point in the year to play here, starting the season with just two tight ends," he said. "I just thought that if I kept grinding and kept showing what I can do that eventually I'd be able to get called up and get an opportunity."
And here he is. With Ward. With Arcega-Whiteside. With tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert also lining up at wide receiver. Maybe with a practice squad player or two promoted by week's end.
It's a crazy world, this NFL.
"To call them up and have them on the active roster and have a plan for them and be utilizing them in the game, that's what we expect," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "And we've talked about that here, in that those guys have got to be prepared. We expect for the level of play to stay the same. And those guys – it was really fun. That's one of the rewarding things about coaching is seeing guys go out there and make those plays, which they did to help us win. So we have to continue to sustain that and put another good plan together this week."