Eagles Need To Get Comfortable With A WR3

Nick Sirianni recently talked about using other personnel groupings but the Eagles need to find a capable WR3.
John Ross lines up during a drill during a Philadelphia Eagles OTA practice on May 30, 2024.
John Ross lines up during a drill during a Philadelphia Eagles OTA practice on May 30, 2024. / By Ed Kracz
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PHILADELPHIA - When it comes to the default 11 personnel grouping Eagles offensive coordinator Kellen Moore prefers there is no clear option for the so-called WR3 position.

Philadelphia has the luxury of having two star receivers in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith with the flexibility to handle any of the traditional three roles: X, Z or slot/flex.

The leader in the clubhouse for the WR3 role would be free-agent signing Parris Campbell, who got the majority of work in the spring. John Ross, once a 2017 top-10 pick trying to reboot his career as a late-signing after coming as a rookie camp tryout player, showed he's still got twitch in his body and was earning some first-team reps in mandatory minicamp.

Contracts don’t tell you everything, but they offer hints and Campbell and Ross signed for one year at $1.125M, the veteran minimum, highlighting that the Eagles are hardly married to either option.

Eagles WR Parris Campbell
Eagles WR Parris Campbell / John McMullen/Eagles SI

More so, when Nick Sirianni was asked about the WR3 position at minicamp, the head coach paid some lip service to the depth which also includes punt returner Britain Covey, second-year hopeful Joseph Ngata, rookies Ainias Smith and Johnny Wilson, and longshots Jacob Harris, who missed the minicamp with an undisclosed injury, Shaq Davis, and Austin Watkins, before quickly quickly veering to other personnel groupings.

“I like the depth. I really like the depth as far as the third spot, I mean that can look a lot of different ways, right?” Sirianni quizzed rhetorically.“That can look 12 personnel (two tight ends), that can look 21 personnel (two running backs) that can work. You know, we don't have a fullback, but two halfbacks that can look like 11 personnel, right?”

There are two ways to look at Sirianni’s take – the idea that personnel grouping is a labeling system and getting your best players on the field is the best route vs. the more realistic approach of stressing the defense.

From a laboratory perspective, the Eagles’ best backup at WR/RB/TE is probably running back Kenny Gainwell. That said, too much 21 personnel with him on the field with Saquon Barkley is going to make it easier for the defense to keep an extra linebacker in the game, perhaps affecting the running game, or if the opposing DC wants to lock down the extra "receiver," he could do so with even a pedestrian defensive back.

Going with a tight end like Grant Calcaterra gives you a more legitimate flex receiving option but without the juice that an actual WR would provide, something that may affect the spacing for Brown and Smith. 

For what it’s worth Sirianni brought up Calcaterra, a largely unproven third-year player, without prompting.

“Grant Calcaterra has done an unbelievable job,” said Sirianni. “He's shown, toughness and mental toughness to get better every single day, I noticed that every single day. ... So, you know, it doesn't have to be a receiver.”

Sirianni is right, the extra skill player never has to be a receiver but the league’s current offensive default setting is 11 personnel for a reason. To be the high-octane offense Philadelphia wants to be, finding a capable WR3 is a necessity.

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John McMullen

JOHN MCMULLEN

John McMullen is a veteran reporter who has covered the NFL for over two decades. The current NFL insider for JAKIB Media, John is the former NFL Editor for The Sports Network where his syndicated column was featured in over 200 outlets including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Miami Herald. He was also the national NFL columnist for Today's Pigskin as well as FanRag Sports. McMullen has covered the Eagles on a daily basis since 2016, first for ESPN South Jersey and now for Eagles Today on SI.com's FanNation. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube.com. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey and part of 6ABC.com's live postgame show after every Eagles game. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen