How Should the Eagles Address the Wide Receiver Position This Off Season?
Should the Eagles draft a wide receiver?
The answer to the above question is a resounding yes, but this time around the Philadelphia Eagles need to find talent at the position beyond their first three picks in the draft. After using a first round pick on Nelson Agholor in 2015, the Eagles landed themselves a project player with the raw skill set to develop into a productive NFL wide receiver. The description I just gave better fits a player drafted in rounds 3-7 than it fits the expectations attached to a player drafted in the top 20 selections of the draft. One problem exists in the minds of Philadelphia fans though. The Eagles recent draft classes have yielded underwhelming results overall, leaving Philadelphia fans with a lack of confidence in the scouting department that the front office has in place. Drafting good wide receivers after the first two rounds of the draft is not an impossible feat. The Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have all proven that it is entirely possible if you have a quarterback who can help to develop wide receivers as downfield threats. With recent changes in the scouting department, and the drafting of Carson Wentz to be Philadelphia's franchise quarterback, the Eagles have what it takes to develop productive wide receivers who are drafted in rounds three through seven.
Finding a leader at the wide receiver position
At times, teams and different units within teams, can take on the personality of their coach. In 2016 the Eagles wide receivers were coached by former Eagle Greg Lewis. On a unit that lacked toughness from top to bottom, the areas of focus from Greg Lewis get called into question based on the way he played the game when he was a player. The Eagles don't have to move on from Greg Lewis to help this unit make strides toward playing the game tougher in 2017. By bringing in a veteran free agent wide receiver who has won plenty of tough battles before, the Eagles can provide the young group of wide receivers with the leadership that they need to take their games to the next level. Many Eagles fans believe that the current group of receivers in Philadelphia lack talent. Lack of talent is not the biggest problem in this area, but rather lack of polished talent. The Eagles can get the most out of the talent they have at the wide receiver position, by creating a culture of toughness and accountability for individual habits concerning work ethic. Bringing in the flashiest talent available is not the answer for Philadelphia at the wide receiver position. It does not make sense from a financial standpoint or from an identity standpoint, as their young team looks to forge their identity heading into 2017.
Popular belief in the Philadelphia area, is that DeSean Jackson may be making a return to Philadelphia this off season. Jackson's agent however, has not made a return to the Eagles a top priority after considering their current salary cap flexibility. DeSean Jackson would welcome a significant contract offer from the team that originally drafted him, but will likely end up signing with the team that gives him the largest contract offer. With this being considered, the Eagles need to find veteran stability at wide receiver to add to their roster without committing too much of their available funds to addressing this need. Kamar Aiken is the perfect candidate to lead the Eagles' young receiving corps. After entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Kamar Aiken finally made his way into regular season action at age 25 for the Ravens in 2014. Aiken led the Ravens in receptions and touchdowns in 2015, but did not factor in much with Mike Wallace, Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman leading the way for the Ravens' passing attack in 2016. He was signed by the Ravens in the last year of Joe Douglass' employment in Baltimore. With Douglass now being a leading decision maker in the Philadelphia scouting department, expect Kamar Aiken to receive significant interest from the Eagles once NFL free agency begins.
There are other candidates who the Eagles could target among the free agent wide receivers. Pierre Garcon would be a great candidate for the Eagles to sign, but after earning 8.5 million dollars in 2016, he may not fit in the Eagles 2017 budget. A deep threat is a highly coveted type of player among Eagles' fans after watching a sub-par group of receivers on the field in 2016. Even though neither Aiken or Garcon have the speed of DeSean Jackson, Garcon was able to convert 68 percent of the passes thrown his way, with a long of 70 yards. Kamar Aiken has not had quite that much success, but he did put together a fantastic 2015 season. With a variety of different quarterbacks throwing to him in 2015, Kamar Aiken was still able to convert 59 percent of the passes thrown his way. A long 48 yards and a yards per catch average of 12.6 in that season, is strong evidence in support of Aiken's play making abilities. Neither one of these options are considered huge stars, but Kamar Aiken possesses the physicality and route running abilities that made Anquan Boldin so successful in the NFL. Garcon has been consistently more productive of the two, which in turn would drive up his asking price on the open market. Both players have shown toughness throughout their NFL careers, and Aiken would fit well with the other receivers in Philadelphia, as he will be in his age 28 season in 2017.
Which of the incumbents will stick around?
There are three receivers from the 2016 Eagles who will be on the team in 2017: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. Paul Turner and Bryce Tregs will likely battle with a draft pick at the wide receiver position, for the fifth receiver's role on the 2017 team. By adding either Pierre Garcon or Kamar Aiken, the Eagles will be able to move Jordan Matthews back into the slot where he has seen success against smaller cornerbacks. Dorial Green-Beckham will likely start outside opposite the Eagles top free agent signing at the wide receiver position, and Nelson Agholor will be given a limited role in 2017. Agholor in a limited role will be given the opportunity to take the next step in his development as an NFL pass catcher, and Dorial Green-Beckham will be asked to ramp up the physicality in order to be productive as the Eagles' number two wide receiver. While this may not be the immediate ideal situation for the Eagles at the wide receiver position, patience will pay off where the talent of Green-Beckham and Agholor are factored in. Without too much turnover for Philadelphia at the wide receiver position, it will be up to Carson Wentz to put in the work necessary to build the rapport between he and his wide receivers on the field.