EAGLES DRAFT PREVIEW: Wide Receivers

The Eagles could use a premium pick on a WR for the third consecutive year
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PHILADELPHIA - Just about everyone in Philadelphia wants a playmaker for the Eagles at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Howie Roseman signaled something by trading down from No. 6 to No. 12 overall, however, and it wasn't just about the firewall between the Eagles and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson.

The Eagles general manager simply isn't comfortable with selecting any of the top receivers in the top 10, whether it be LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, the Alabama duo of Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, or even hybrid tight end Kyle Pitts.

Historically, Philadelphia simply doesn't value the position that high in the draft and the last time the Eagles went top 10 at the position was almost 40 years ago when Kenny Jackson was selected No. 4 overall in 1984.

Over the past generation, the Eagles have shown they have a wheelhouse when they do go WR in the first round: Freddie Mitchell (No. 25 in 2001), Jeremy Maclin (No. 19 in 2009), Nelson Agholor (No. 20 in 2015), and Jalen Reagor (No. 21 in 2020).

Anything in the top half of the draft over the last two decades for Philadelphia has been quarterback, offensive line, or defensive line, and the two likely trend-buster positions to that this time around, per most of the mock drafts, are cornerback or WR with the latter coming into play if either Smith or Waddle drop on draft night.

The WR position undoubtedly remains a serious need for Philadelphia which is disappointing considering how many assets have been used at WR over the past couple of years.

The Eagles drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the second round of the 2019 draft and carpet-bombed the position last April with three draft picks: Reagor, John Hightower (fifth round), and Quez Watkins (sixth round).

Despite that, Philadelphia hasn't had a wideout with over 600 yards receiving over two consecutive seasons during the most pass-happy era in league history, a staggering lack of production.

The question moving forward for Roseman and personnel chief Andy Weidl is whether or not to keep dumping draft capital into the position or shift the focus to player development under new head coach Nick Sirianni, who played WR in college at Mount Union and coached it at times with both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.

The organization also finally halted the revolving door when it comes to the position coach with Aaron Moorehead bridging the last season of the Doug Pederson era with Sirianni's first.

Pederson had five different WR coaches in five seasons: Greg Lewis, Mike Groh, Gunter Brewer, Carson Walch, and Moorehead, although the context to that was that the persistent upheaval came from above and Pederson wanted to keep Lewis after the 2016 season, promoted Groh to offensive coordinator in 2017, and also wanted to keep Walch after 2019.

"We build our schemes - I can't say this enough - based off the players that we have," Sirianni said. "But it doesn't mean we're not looking for certain things. Each position is a little bit different. You're just looking to fill roles. ... For a wide receiver, you're looking to fill the roles. That can be done by committee. You're looking to fill the roles that maybe you don't think you have based on the team you have at this particular time."

The roles as currently constituted are Z (Reagor), X (Travis Fulgham or Arcega-Whiteside), and the slot (Greg Ward).

The depth includes the speedy Hightower and Watkins, as well as futures signing Khalil Tate, a former quarterback in college at Arizona.

"I think Howie and his staff have done such a good job of getting young talent in here," said Sirianni. "What's exciting is to be able to work with the guys that are currently on this roster, the guys that are currently on these rosters, these are the guys I fell in love with a couple of years ago in the draft or last year in the draft.

"In the draft, you don't get to recruit the guys. It's like, ‘Oh, shoot the Eagles took them.’ I get a chance to work with them now. How exciting is that?"

As for the 2021 draft class, it's not quite what 2020 was when it comes to depth and when players like Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb hit the ground running, but it is another solid group.

"This is a deep wide receiver class," Sirianni said. "But what we do is look through all our options, we watch the tape on all the guys, do our homework on all the guys. Like every other position, we do whatever we need to do to improve the Eagles and make the position as good as we can possibly make the position."

Chase is the consensus headliner despite opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.

“Watching [his teammates] this season was a little hard for me. I’m a real competitive guy," Chase conceded before noting he's been working toward his ultimate goal: the NFL. "When I opted out, I was working on a lot of my speed stuff. After a while I started working on my routes, getting used to dropping my weight again, getting used to ... my feet again. It was  just me trying to feel comfortable again.”

Smith, meanwhile, won the Heisman Trophy for the national champions at Alabama, at least in part because Waddle suffered a fractured ankle. In many ways, the knocks on both are size, especially Smith who played at 165 pounds.

“I feel like it’s not going to be no different than college," Smith said of the NFL. "I played against some of the best in college. I played in the SEC. I feel like that’s the toughest conference there is. I know a lot of people that are bigger than me and have more problems than me. I’m not worried about it at all.”

Bateman could be the bridge between the top-15 talent and the typical area the Eagles may choose a WR.

"Being a receiver, you've got to be able to do everything," said Bateman, "so just continue to focus on my routes, hands, strength, everything all-around, because in the NFL, you need to be ready for everything. So I've just been grinding on every single thing that I can think of."

EAGLES DEPTH CHART:

Z - Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, John Hightower

X - Travid Fulgham, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

Slot - Greg Ward, Khalil Tate

BUILDING THE PERFECT WR

Route-running - Rashod Bateman, Minnesota: Bateman could fool his own shadow with his footwork and sharp cuts. No banana routes here.

Release - Devonta Smith, Alabama: The undersized Smith is almost like a basketball point guard off the line of scrimmage.

Hands - Ja'Marr Chase, LSU: Chase has very soft hands and his tracking skills down the field are elite.

Home-run hitter - Jaylen Waddle, Alabama: This year's Tyreek Hill comp. Waddle won't be that but there aren't many DBs he can't run by.

YAC - Rondale Moore, Purdue: Moore is the hold-your-breath guy in this class when you get the football in his hands with game-altering elusiveness.

Blocking - Terrace Marshall, LSU: At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Marshall likes getting physical and enjoys mixing it up.

EAGLES MAVEN TOP 10:

1. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU

2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

3. Devonta Smith, Alabama

4. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

5. Terrace Marshall, LSU

6. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

7. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

8. Kadarius Toney, Florida

9. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Southern Cal

10. Rondale Moore, Purdue

Sleeper - Cornell Powell, Clemson

Boom or Bust - Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

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. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.

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