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Who Stays, Who Goes: Wide Receivers

It's a group that should undergo a lot of change in the offseason, with just two keepers
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There will be a lot of talk about the Eagles using another first-round pick on a receiver in these coming months, with the logic being, hey, they have three selections on the first day and they need still need to upgrade the position, so, yeah, why not?

There will be plenty of time to debate the merits of doing so but signing a free agent and/or making a trade for one seems the best logical path at this point. That doesn’t mean that somewhere along the draft’s seven-round path they won’t choose one.

It worked out with Quez Watkins, when they watched 199 players go off the board before making him the 200th player chosen in 2020, a sixth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi who already had the deck stacked against him because sixth-round picks always do.

Watkins has developed quite nicely, though, and is one of the keepers at the position heading into the 2022 season.

DeVonta Smith, obviously, is another.

“I think you have a number one guy in DeVonta Smith,” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “I think he is a number one receiver, and he continues to get better. Why do I think he's a number one receiver? Because he can consistently win one-on-one, he can get the ball into his hands and make plays with the ball in his hand, maybe run a short pass. He catches everything. His competitive nature.

“I don’t think that there are a lot of true No. 1 receivers in the NFL, and I think we have one that is going to continue to get better.”

After Smith and Watkins, it gets murky.

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So, as our series on who stays, who goes shifts to receiver, some difficult decisions need to be made, perhaps none more difficult than Jalen Reagor.

The receiver will forever be measured against whatever it is Justin Jefferson does, and Jefferson has already done plenty, becoming the first pass-catcher to eclipse 3,000 yards receiving in his first two years. And he’s just 22, a handful of months younger than Reagor.

It’s not Reagor’s fault GM Howie Roseman thought Reagor’s speed would play better in whatever the offense looked like.

It is Reagor’s fault that he has not learned how to consistently run routes and has struggled with catching the ball.

The blame game needs to end, and the Eagles should do everything to move on from their 2020 first-round pick, knowing that, while they swung and missed in that round, Watkins appears to be panning out nicely after a season in which he averaged 15.0 yards per catch and posted 646 yards through the air.

If it means taking less than what the market may dictate, Roseman should accept it and move on. It would be best for both parties.

It’s never a good thing when your head coach considers you, a first-round pick, a No. 3 receiver, which Sirianni was very clear about in his after-season news conference last week.

“We want more production from Jalen Reagor and he has all the talent to do so,” said the coach. “So, I like him in that No. 3 spot right now to be able to make plays because he has skill, he has talent.”

Check the photo gallery with more comments on each WR:

DeVonta Smith
Quez Watkins
Jalen Reagor on changes from rookie season to year Two
Greg Ward on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside after preseason finale

In addition to Reagor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside should also move on.

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There won’t be much of a market for the former second-round pick in 2019, so a release should happen. He simply drops more passes than he catches.

Perhaps a change of scenery will help. It certainly did for Mack Hollins, a fourth-round pick in 2017 who was cut late in the 2019 season and landed in Miami, where he has caught 30 passes for 399 yards and five touchdowns in two-plus seasons with the Dolphins.

Perhaps Arcega-Whiteside’s career has run its disappointing course.

Either way, it’s time for the Eagles to move along from him.

What’s left?

  • Greg Ward. Steady and reliable Ward, whose leadership ability and lack of ego in accepting a much-reduced role in 2021 compared to a season ago is admirable.

He is a restricted free agent, whose return could be contingent on what the Eagles choose to do in the offseason at this position.

  • Deon Cain, a former sixth-round pick of the Colts in 2019 who was signed to the Eagles’ practice squad on Oct. 18 but was never activated from the practice squad, returns after signing a reserve/futures contract. Not re-signed to a reserve/futures contract were John Hightower and KeeSean Johnson.

There will be plenty of options for the Eagles to upgrade this spot, but it will start with finding a veteran, an upgrade from Ward, perhaps even someone who can push Watkins to a No. 3 role.

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Free agency is filled with attractive names, though some of them may not be available should their teams opt to try to re-sign them or put the franchise tag on them.

As for the draft, the Eagles have already been identified as a team willing to spend another first-round pick on a pass-catcher if the early mock drafts can be believed.

Something that will need factored into the WR equation is just what kind of offense the Eagles will run next year. This season, Sirianni’s first, obviously transitioned to a running attack after the first six weeks.

It may not be the same next year.

“You're not going to have the same statistical output when you're the type of offense that we were this year, but I am very pleased with this group,” he said. “I know that this is a good group. Are we always going to look to add talent to the group and playmakers to the group? Of course.

"But I like where we sit right now as the wide receiver group, and I think we can continue to grow at that group because of the talent we have and the guys that we have in that room.”

As always seems to be the case with this position, it will once again be a group to keep an eye on, with only two players – Smith and Watkins – who should return.

The others…farewell.

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