Examining the NFC East: Wide Receivers
Our daily series examining the NFC East from a positional perspective with the help of league personnel sources moves on to the position in which the Eagles spent the most time on in the offseason, wide receiver.
General manager Howie Roseman essentially carpet-bombed things with three draft picks, including first-rounder Jalen Reagor, as well as late-rounders John Hightower and Quez Watkins, and trade-pickup Marquise Goodwin.
All are a part of the 4.4 club and that’s actually an insult for Goodwin, a former Olympian who Roseman called one of the fastest people in the world, albeit an injury-prone one.
The overall theme hit you over the head like a hammer in that Doug Pederson believed the lack of speed on the field in 2019 after DeSean Jackson went down with a core-muscle injury had such a negative impact that it couldn’t be repeated.
In the worst-case scenario for the Eagles, perhaps the newcomers can’t play but they will still offer a trait that must be respected.
That said, any real improvement at the position in 2020 is likely to come from the incumbents: Jackson, Greg Ward, 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and maybe even the rehabbing Alshon Jeffery, at least until Reagor can get up to speed after missing out on his first on-field offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
No. 4 - Philadelphia Eagles - Before last season ProFootballFocus.com claimed the Eagles had the best WR corps in the NFL and the wheels fell off to the point you can credibly argue that the group was dead last an almost astonishing first-to-worst freefall.
This time around we are starting the Eagles on the bottom of the division with the caveat of fluidity. There are a lot of ifs in this group but there are also a lot of paths to competence and beyond.
The easiest would be if Jackson is healthy and on the field but a healthy (and happy) Jeffery could still be a difference-maker as could Reagor and even Arcega-Whiteside or Goodwin.
For now though there are just too many questions that need to be answered in Philadelphia.
“You saw the impact (of Jackson) in Week 1 last season,” a former NFC scout said. “There would be a domino effect up and down the group if he’s out there.”
“They have bodies and options so that’s good,” the scout added. “There are questions about every one of them, though. I will say on J.J. he’s too smart and too good a kid. I think he was fighting through some (injury-related) things last year.”
No. 3 - Washington Redskins - Terry McLaurin took the NFL by storm as a rookie third-round pick running by people last season. The key will be how the former Oho State star handles the adjustments toward him as a true WR1 but he certainly looked the part as a big-play threat who can stretch the field consistently.
The ‘Skins also have options in the slot with Trey Quinn and Steven Sims with the latter coming on strong late last season as a rookie.
The other outside spot is the question mark. Cody Latimer was signed but was recently arrested for assault and discharging a firearm so that looks like a non-starter. Kelvin Harmon, a sixth-round pick last season, started eight games and will be the leader in the clubhouse.
“McLaurin is already one of the deep threats in the game and they deserve a lot of credit for the (draft) class,” a former AFC scout said.
No. 2 - New York Giants - The Giants have solid, if unspectacular options for second-year QB Daniel Jones with ex-Eagles Golden Tate joined by Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, coming off an impact rookie season in which he was a deep threat down the field as a fifth-round pick.
The depth is shaky with former first-round bust Corey Coleman giving it another try after missing 2019 with an injury. From there it’s completely unproven commodities and special teams types. Davis Sills can run and Cody Core, no-intended, a core special-teamer.
“Slayton is the key. Can he build on what he did last season or is he going to struggle with some extra attention?” a former AFC personnel executive asked rhetorically. “Tate’s a pro but on the decline. Shepard has to stay healthy and be the traffic guy."
No. 1 - Dallas Cowboys - Already an embarrassment of riches outside the numbers with big-play threats Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, the Cowboys added to that with arguably the most well-rounded WR in the draft in CeeDee Lamb.
Dallas certainly wasn’t shopping at the position but when Lamb fell they pounced and now Dak Prescott could have the best WR corps in the NFL.
“You have to wait and see how any rookie handles the jump and this season will be more difficult than most because of what’s going on, but if Lamb is half the player people think he is, this is a pick-your-poison situation,” a former NFC scout said.
The only issues are the slot and depth. Randall Cobb left for Houston in free agency and there isn’t a natural fit inside although Cooper’s route-running is among the game’s best so he could easily shoulder the load. The problem with that is you take him away from more impactful plays down the field times.
Some of the names in the mix for reserved spots are Devin Smith, Cedrick Wilson, Ventell Bryant, and Noah Brown.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen