Did Eagles do Enough to Get Better at WR?

Philly drafted three receivers, traded for another and hired a new position coach, yet the answer to that question remains fuzzy
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The Eagles made a series of defensive improvements in the offseason, specifically trading for cornerback Darius Slay and signing free-agent defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, but it was an attempt to upgrade the receiver position that captured much of the fancy in Philadelphia.

Philly drafted three players, traded for another, and brought in a new position coach.

The question still remains: Did they do enough?

The answer is clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited new position coach, Aaron Moorehead, who is the fifth new receiver coach in the five years since Doug Pederson became the head coach.

By now, OTAs would be close to ending with a mandatory minicamp on the horizon in June, and Moorehead would have a decent idea of who can do what and players would have a better idea of how the playbook’s X’s and O’s fit in live drills.

All Moorehead has been able to do thus far, however, is nothing more than iron out playbook wrinkles for the newcomers via computer meetings.

“It's just not the same because we don't have the grass time, so I can't see him coaching on the grass,” said Pederson when asked last week if he has seen any differences in the way Moorehead is coaching than any of his previous four assistants at that position.

“I can't see him putting the players through drill work. Yeah, during the interview process I was able to watch him instruct me on his drills and things like that, but, so it's hard to kind of answer that part of the question.

“But from the mental side of it, what he has taken from our meetings as a staff to the players and to see the players, especially these young players, grasp ahold of the information, has been very positive and very good for me as a coach to know that the information is being transferred with one voice.”

Personnel-wise, there are 14 receivers currently on the Eagles’ roster, including veterans Alshon Jeffery, who may not be ready to begin the season after Lisfranc surgery, and DeSean Jackson.

Also, there are J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had a disappointing rookie season after arriving in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and Greg Ward, who climbed his way up from several years on the practice squad to become a trusted target for quarterback Carson Wentz late in the season.

“They have bodies and options so that’s good,” a former NFC scout told SI.com. “There are questions about every one of them, though.”

That includes the draft picks, though there is no question that they may be the fastest collection of pass-catchers on an NFL roster.

The Eagles believe they have found at least one receiver, and maybe more, who can grow with Wentz. That would be Jalen Reagor, who came in the first round of the draft, the 21st player taken overall.

The other two who came later were Boise State’s John Hightower in the fifth round and Southern Mississippi’s Quez Watkins in the sixth round.

Both Hightower and Watkins were highly productive in college.

In two seasons at Boise, Hightower caught 82 passes, 14 of which went for touchdowns and he added another two TDs rushing.

“My receiver coach at Boise State always told us to take advantage of every opportunity you get,” said Hightower, who will turn 24 at the end of May, which is considered old for a prospect.

“Every opportunity that I got I just tried my best to take advantage of it. I tried to score every time I would get the ball, run great routes, get open, try to get the ball, and score.”

In 35 games at Southern Miss, Watkins had 159 receptions, with 17 of those touchdowns.

If Marquise Goodwin, acquired in a draft-day deal from the 49ers, can figure out how to stay healthy, the way he did in 2017 when he started 16 games and finished with 17.2 yards per catch on 56 receptions for 962 yards, he could be a steal.

The others on the Eagles roster are Manasseh Bailey, Deontay Burnett, Robert Davis, Shelton Gibson, Marcus Green, and Khalil Tate.

It’s safe to say those six won’t make the final roster, which would leave eight receivers for five, maybe six spots.

Last year, the feeling was the Eagles had enough at receiver, with Jeffery, Jackson, and Nelson Agholor installed as the top three. None of those three stayed healthy for all 16 games, however, and finished the year injured, watching from the sideline.

The Eagles brought 13 receivers to camp with them last year, including the top three and then-rookie Arcega-Whiteside. They also had Ward, Gibson, Mack Hollins, Charles Johnson, Marken Michel, Braxton Miller, DeAndre Thompkins, Carlton Agudosi, and Devin Ross.

It wasn’t good enough.

Nor was receiver coach Carson Walch, who was let go in early January.

Now it is Moorehead’s turn, and, while the group looks better, and much faster, on paper, nobody, not coaches, fans, or media, have seen what it all looks like on the field.

Paper, after all, can be easily shredded.