Meet Philadelphia Eagles practice squad wide receiver KeeSean Johnson

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

On Monday, the Philadelphia Eagles announced that Quez Watkins and Jason Huntley have entered COVID protocol, with their status very much up in the air heading into Week 15.

This, obviously, is very bad news, as you never want to see a player miss time with an illness, but it also leaves the team in a precarious position heading into Washington Week, as Watkins has been one of the Eagles’ top-3 pass catchers so far this season.

Tied with Jalen Reagor for the second-most targets of any wide receiver, Watkins ranks third overall on the team in yards at 491 – that’s in no small part to a 91-yard reception in Week 2 – and is one of the few players on the team who can reliably take the top off of an opposing defense.

But what are the Eagles to do? Should they simply roll light on wide-outs heading into Week 15 – as it’s not like Nick Sirianni ever uses more than three receivers in any given game anyway – or should they turn to one of the three receivers they have on the practice squad? If they opt to roll with the latter option, the team should bypass ex-Colts receiver Deon Cain and 2020 fifth-round pick John Hightower to give former Arizona Cardinals pass-catcher KeeSean Johnson a shot to test his mettle against a pretty meh Washington secondary.

The Philadelphia Eagles should try out a big new wide receiver.

In 2019, the Arizona Cardinals really wanted to draft N’Keal Harry from right down the road in Tempe.

The team knew it, as did the player, and apparently, so did opposite teams, and the New England Patriots swooped in and secured his services with the penultimate pick in the first round, two picks before the Cardinals went back on the board at 33.

Now granted, in hindsight, Arizona should thank their lucky stars that New England pulled the trigger when they did, as Harry has been a non-factor at the NFL level and the player they “settled” for, Byron Murphy, has already picked off four passes in his third-straight really good season, but that didn’t stop GM Steve Keim from drafting not one, not two, but loading up on wide receivers with three of the team’s next nine picks.

Of those players, two have actually migrated east from one gang of Birds to another, with both Hakeem Butler and now KeeSean Johnson trading their Cardinal red to midnight green.

Butler, the 103rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, initially made his way to South Philly in September of 2020, in the hopes of turning the Iowa State product into a Darren Waller-esque tight end.

*spoiler alert* that didn’t work.

What has worked, at least well enough to keep him employed on the practice squad, is Johnson’s move from the West Coast to the East.

A college Bulldog from Fresno State, KeeSean Johnson was a walking touchdown during his four-year stay in the San Joaquin Valley, scoring 24 as a receiver to go with 275 catches and 3,463 yards through the air. Largely tasked with filling the cleats left behind by Davante Adams, Johnson was a big-bodied, sure-handed safety valve for a slew of collegiate quarterbacks who weren’t quite good enough for primetime.

From there, Johnson underwhelmed at the 2019 NFL Draft Combine, where he ran a slow 4.6 40 to go with a brutal 30-inch vertical and watched his draft stock sink all the way to the sixth round, where he was selected 174th overall.

Ideal? Hardly, but it’s cool; plenty of sixth-round wide receivers have gone on to find success in the NFL, and plenty more will into the future if given an opportunity to shine.

The problem Johnson ran into was that he just rarely got onto the field, which is alarming, considering Kliff Kingsbury really likes to run three, four, even five receiver sets.

Over his first two seasons in Arizona, Johnson only played roughly 46 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and was targeted 65 times, well behind players like Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and DeAndre Hopkins, who was only on the team in 2020. While that’s better than the first receiver selected by the Cards in 2019, as Andy Isabella’s game really hadn’t translated to the NFL, it wasn’t good enough to guarantee a roster spot in 2021, as Johnson was cut in favor of rookies Rondale Moore and Antoine Wesley.

And from there… well, there’s nothing to really report. Johnson has chilled on the practice squad, bided his time for an opportunity, and continued to put in work.

So, with all of that in mind, what would Johnson bring to the table for the Eagles in Week 15? Well, for one, he’s a professional wide receiver with more career yards than JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who was drafted 117 spots higher in the 2019 NFL Draft. On the field, Johnson is a possession receiver who is not tasked with taking the top off a defense all that often but can help to move the chains in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field.

Assuming the Eagles learn a few lessons from Minshew Mania in Week 13, incorporating more check-down options with Jalen Hurts back on the field could seriously help to improve his efficiency and remove some off-script scrambles from the repertoire.

Next. DeVonta Smith is already the Philadelphia Eagles’ WR1. dark

Ultimately, will the Philadelphia Eagles turn to their practice squad to replace Quez Watkins in Week 15? Probably, especially if the team gets a free practice squad elevatee to fill his spot in the game-day roster, but will that player actually contribute? If Nick Sirianni’s plan over the last 13 games is of any indication, that’d be a resounding “no.” Still, of the three receivers on the practice squad, KeeSean Johnson is the most experienced and thus, has the best chance to actually help out if he does see the field. Considering how the receiver corps has looked so far this season, landing a surprise contributor would be an incredibly beneficial way to close out the season.