During the two years that head coach Chip Kelly has presided over the Philadelphia Eagles, the wide receiver corp has experienced perhaps the most substantial turnover of all the position groupings. Following year one, the Eagles’ brass opted to cut loose troubled star wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and instead added rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff.
Then, this past offseason, Jeremy Maclin returned home to play for his former coach, and Chip Kelly took the plunge on USC WR Nelson Agholor, hoping to find a suitable replacement. With so many moving parts, its quite difficult to get a handle on the Eagles’ WR situation. The relative inexperience of key components in the WR corp ensures that the incumbent training camp battle will help to shape roles, and define usage.
Among the less experienced members of the Eagles’ Wide Receivers is second year man and Vanderbilt product, Jordan Matthews. In his debut season, Matthews put together one of the most impressive seasons for a rookie WR in Eagles history, converting 67 receptions into 872 yards and 8 Touchdowns. His size and ability to leap and pluck the ball out of the air made him a formidable slot receiver and red zone option in 2014. Matthews, however, seems poised to expand his role to the outside with what has been, by all accounts, a productive offseason.
Though Matthews skill set seems to be more suitable to the slot, I don’t buy the notion that he can not accel on the outside. Matthews doesn’t possess a trump card ability that distinguishes himself physically from the top receivers in the league, however, he’s rock solid in pretty much every facet of his game. If you asked me to provide a distinguishing trait of Matthews’, I’d have to say it’s his mind set. Matthews embodies the growth mind set, and he demonstrates constant energy and effort in everything that he does.
Though the way in which the coaching staff intends to use Matthews is unclear, what is clear is that he will remain an integral part of the offense. With Agholor now in the fold, I’d expect both players to move around the formation to some degree, as Chip is always looking to become more diverse in the looks he gives defenses. That being said, Matthews will likely take the bulk of his snaps from the slot, where he was so productive one year ago. Matthews will see virtually no competition in TC, and will maintain his role with the team.
The player who I would consider the secondary slot option, and primary outside target is the former Trojan, Nelson Agholor. Judging by the chatter that came from Eagles’ spring practices, Agholor has been impressive in the early goings and is making progress towards assuming a substantial role in his rookie season.
Agholor is sure to face his share of challenges during his first NFL season, however, his preparation and cerebral play should make him an effective option from day one. While many rookies face a pretty steep learning curve, Agholor is much more well equipped from a mental standpoint to deal with the rigors of the game. Point being, although Agholor will be tested by the staff and will have to earn snaps, it shouldn’t prove to be much of an obstacle. Heading into TC, Agholor will likely be used in a variety of ways, though I’d expect the staff to limit the amount they put on his plate so he can adjust to the speed of the NFL.
The most interesting piece in all of this is Josh Huff, who flashed in his first season but did little to secure a significant role in 2015. Huff has the ability to be a good NFL WR, but needs to show that he can become more consistent and is able to adapt to the nuances of the NFL game.
Huff flashed impressive return ability in 2014, and is the clear front runner to reassume return duties heading into TC. I’d expect Huff to give a hard push for snaps on the outside, but his starting prospects will hinge almost entirely on his training camp performance. Huff will be given every opportunity to snatch the starting role from veteran Riley Cooper — who at this point seems unlikely to return in 2016 — but make no mistake: Huff won’t be given anything, and will have to demonstrate intimate knowledge of the playbook and his role, as well as an ability to consistently compete on the outside.
Huff’s main competition, Riley Cooper, has a hold of one the starting jobs as of now (albeit not a strong hold). Cooper was incredibly inconsistent in 2014, and produced very little in a substantial role. Still, Kelly valued Coopers blocking ability enough to continue to feed him snaps. Heading into TC, the staff is hopeful that someone — likely Josh Huff — is able to wrestle the starting gig away, and provide better production on the outside.
Outside of Huff, there’s very little competition on the outside. One player that could feasibly surprise, however, is Miles Austin, though that’s not where the smart money is.
Austin has drawn the praise of both his teammates and the coaching staff during offseason activities, but his checkered injury history is simply too extensive to ignore. This isn’t a case of a few unrelated freak injuries, or simple bad luck, Austin has what could be described as a degenerative hamstring issue.
While I agree that Chip’s sports science department will help to mitigate potential injuries, I am not optimistic about Austin’s chances. Austin’s case is reminiscent of Kenny Phillips‘ in 2012. The staff is gambling on a talented veteran who could very well contribute to an otherwise young and inexperienced group. There’s no problem with this line of thinking, however, expecting anything out of Austin at this point is wishful thinking.
If healthy, Austin can be a veteran presence both on and off the field, and will provide a reliable set of hands, and terrific route running ability. Heading into TC, Austin’s primary focus should be simply taking it easy and doing the little things in an attempt to stay on the field.
Beyond the top receiving options, there are several hopefuls vying for a roster spot. One of those players, Seyi Ajirotutu, has made some noise this offseason in an effort to carve out a role. Previously a stand-out special teamer and spot player for the San Diego Chargers, Ajirotutu has a very good chance of sticking after final cuts, largely due to his ‘teams versatility.
Though training camp has yet to begin, Chip Kelly’s affinity for collecting special teams talent should pave the way for Ajirotutu, though he will have to prove that his value trumps the potential upside of one of the UDFAs.
Of the UDFAs, the players to watch are John Harris, and Devante Davis (though Quron Pratt and Rasheed Bailey could throw their hats in the ring. Which player sticks is dependent on what the coaching staff wants in that final receiver’s slot. If it’s a pure pass catching option (unlikely), then the choice is Davis. However, if Chip decides to invest further in special teams by keeping a 6th receiver (more likely), then Harris it is. Regardless, each player will have to stake hilaim for a roster spot that will be tough to take hold of.
More from Inside the Iggles
- Eagles captains earn high praise on roster blending veteran leadership, youth
- How former Eagles star Cre’Von LeBlanc helped Renegades upstage Cowboys
- Eagles 2023 schedule: Every WR duo Darius Slay, James Bradberry will battle
- Imagining better names for Jason Kelce’s Good Guy Award
- Bold predictions for the Philadelphia Eagles offense in 2023