The Philadelphia Eagles head into 2016 with a multitude of questions surrounding their offense but outside of running back their receiver core may be the biggest question mark.
Much of the talk this season was around who will play quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles and after Fletcher Cox‘s contract extension it’s now rotating around improved defensive line play. But what about the receivers? when it comes down to moving the chains they will be instrumental in the play of the Eagles this season. If they’re good the Eagles can win the wide-open NFC East, but if they falter the Eagles will be stuck treading water.
Going into the season, the projected starters for the Philadelphia Eagles receiving core (wide receivers and tight ends) are Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Rueben Randle and Zach Ertz. Brent Celek and Chris Givens are backups that should contribute to the offensive output this year. Looking at these players, outside of Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz, they are surrounded by question marks.
Zach Ertz is expected to have a breakout year after he had a career-high 75 catches for 853 yards last season because of looking at what Doug Pederson did with Jason Kelce last season in Kansas City. Jordan Matthews has developed into a reliable slot receiver but he won’t be a guy that breaks games open. That’s because the Philadelphia Eagles seem content with keeping him in the slot and he is most comfortable in that role going across the center of the field.
In two receiver sets Agholor (as long as his legal issues are resolved) will start opposite of Matthews with Zach Ertz on the field a do it all tight end. in this situation, the Eagles will have capable pass catchers on the field but no one who can truly stretch the defense. While Agholor is the fastest receiver of this group, he lacks the top end speed that defenses have to respect. However, all three of these receivers have good hands and run good routes which should play into Sam Bradford‘s strengths in the short passing game.
The issue that arises with the starting receivers for the Philadelphia Eagles is that they run the risk of being shut down by physical teams that excel in press coverage. If those teams are able to disrupt the receivers routes Bradford could be left out to dry and with the running game being a question mark there’s no true safety valve in that situation.
These are the situations where Rueben Randle and Chris Givens will be important to the success of the Philadelphia Eagles. Neither is a perfect receiver but if used in their proper roles they can be dangerous. Randle’s best skill is being a downfield and end zone threat even though he’s not the most fleet of foot. Randle scored eight touchdowns last season for the Giants and the Eagles will need similar numbers from him this season.
Givens brings a true burner to the team as well as someone who is familiar with Sam Bradford. Givens best season was his rookie season when Bradford was the Rams QB so the Eagles hope that he will be able to replicate that success. Givens will mainly be used in specialty situations when the Philadelphia Eagles have three or four wideouts to stretch the field. Josh Huff is also on the roster but he can’t be expected to bring much to the table due to his lack of size and track record.
Brent Celek will be the reliable vet of the offense who gives the Philadelphia Eagles the ability to run two tight end packages but he’s at a point in his career where he’s no longer a starter for the team. When Ertz went down last season, Celek stepped in and showed that the tank isn’t empty and that he still has more than enough to offer the team earning himself an extension.
For the Philadelphia Eagles to have success this season they will need to see improvement from their receivers. Going into the season they look like an average unit and while that may be good enough to win the NFC East, it won’t be good enough to make a splash in the playoffs. The good thing is that it’s a young core so improvement should be expected but it remains to be seen to what degree that will happen. Hopefully, Doug Pederson is able to instill into these receivers what he did with Jeremy Maclin last season in Kansas City.