'X' Marks the Spot for Nick Sirianni, Eagles

As the Eagles again look for an upgrade at WR, it is important to remember the qualifications Nick Sirianni looks for in that specific position
By John McMullen ,

PHILADELPHIA - It's becoming a tradition unlike any other in Philadelphia: the Eagles have a significant need at wide receiver.

You heard the same thing leading up to the 2019 draft when the Eagles ultimately selected J.J. Arcega-Whiteside with the 57th overall pick and you certainly were aware last April when Howie Roseman blanketed the position with the 21st overall pick, Jalen Reagor, and two later-round selections in John Hightower and Quez Watkins.

Yet here we are 12 months later and some fans are threatening to jump off the Walt Whitman if either Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith are available at No. 12 and the Eagles don't select either of the former Alabama stars.

And that sentiment if often only uttered after pointing out Roseman already moved down from No. 6 overall where LSU's Ja'Marr Chase might have been available.

For now, the Eagles' depth chart is headlined by Reagor (Z), Travis Fulgham (X), and Greg Ward (slot). 

An upgrade is needed in at least two of three positions and the only reason to hesitate on saying three is pedigree and the assumption a healthier Reagor will begin to turn the corner with a new head coach in Nick Sirianni who is well-versed at the WR position.

Arcega-Whiteside will likely get one last opportunity to push for playing time after two poor seasons at the X spot while Watkins may get a long look when it comes to slot work in an effort to get more athleticism on the field.

A WR or two will almost surely be added in the draft again and there's a very strong possibility that one of the team's first two picks (scheduled as Nos. 12 and 37) will be at the position.

Considering that the Eagles seem willing to default to Reagor as the Z receiver and slot options aren't typically deemed worthy enough to be taken in the top 40, the organization will almost surely be targeting a prospect that can plug in and play at the X spot.

For the uninitiated, the X spot is the split end, the receiver who is on the line of scrimmage, making beating press-man coverage a necessity, the reason the position usually favors bigger players who can fight through the jam.

In the recent past, that's been Alshon Jeffery for the Eagles and why similar body types to Jeffery as Fulgham and Arcega-Whiteside are in the queue.

Sirianni, though, might have a different mindset with what he thinks can succeed at the position.

"What's an X receiver look like?" Sirianni asked rhetorically before putting his foot in the ground and explaining his philosophy at the Eagles' pre-draft press availability on Wednesday. 

"Well, I've had different Xs. I've had TY Hilton who was 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. He played X for us. I've had Dwayne Bowe who was 6-2, 220 pounds. He played X for us. I had Keenan Allen who was 6-3, 200. All these guys that I'm saying, TY was fast; Keenan was quick, not fast; Dwayne Bowe was powerful. They all played differently."

To Sirianni, the answer can come in many ways.

"I think these guys come in different shapes and sizes," the coach said.

Most took that to be a tacit endorsement of Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who weighed in at just 166 pounds during the recent Indianapolis medical checks and stood just a hair above 6-feet tall despite being listed at 6-1 at Alabama.

"It's just a matter of can that guy do, what you want that person to do on the outside," said Sirianni. "Really when you say X, it's can he win one-on-one match-ups consistently? So it's just who can do that.

"Who can win the one-on-one match-up consistently so the quarterback can take the ball, go one, two, three, four, five, hitch throw, ball's out, everybody is better in front of him because of it. He's better because it's one-on-one out there, and that guy looks different all across the league."

Waddle is actually a little shorter than Smith - at just over 5-9 - and carries about 15 more pounds, so he's not exactly a Bowe or Allen-type WR either putting the fit of the player firmly into the Eagles' evaluation.

In other words, you can't just stop after watching the player. You also have to factor in the finished product and what 11 personnel would look like with Reagor, Smith or Waddle and say Watkins on the field together.

There's certainly some juice there but no obvious contested-catch or back-shoulder option for Jalen Hurts to throw to.

"It looks different across the league," Sirianni said of the X position. "Antonio Brown has been that X; Julio Jones has been that X; Odell Beckham has been that X. All these guys come in different shapes and sizes.

"Can you do what I just said, can you win consistently one-on-one?"

Eagles fans may soon find out.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven and host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.