June 2, 2023   9 MIN READ

Numbers Game

DiCecco: Wide Ranging Battle For Birds WR Depth


Looking beyond starters A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, you’ll find an assortment of contenders vying for a coveted spot on one of the NFL’s most prolific passing attacks.

Sure, further down the pecking order is incumbent receiver Quez Watkins, who’s poised to rebound from a bumbling 2022 season.

As much as the Eagles would prefer a Watkins redemption story –  it would provide some clarity to a murky positional landscape – they’ve yet to determine the prospects.

But Watkins is hardly the only reserve pass-catcher under the microscope.

Former Falcons receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who signed a modest deal during free agency’s third wave, will have an opportunity to usurp Watkins and stake claim to a role that was anything but ballast a season ago.

One variable to consider: the 5-foot-8 Zaccheaus plays a vastly different game than Watkins, which could conceivably alter certain offensive strategies.

Then you have the glaring absence of a big-bodied outside receiver who’s capable of stepping in and logging productive snaps if Brown or Smith miss time or just need a blow.

As currently constituted, the Eagles’ depth chart indicates that Watkins, Zaccheaus, or seldom-used punt returner Britain Covey would be called upon – which is hardly ideal, leading me to believe the Eagles will take long looks at some of their intriguing depth before potentially looking outside the organization for a reinforcement.

Here’s an overview of the team’s pass catchers beyond the starters: 

ITB Photo: Can Quez Watkins (16) keep his role as No. 3 wideout in the Eagles’ WR corps?

Quez Watkins

Of all those competing for roles behind Brown and Smith, the embattled Watkins is most notable due to ceiling and positional versatility. How Watkins fares in his extensive audition will go a long way in determining the team’s positional landscape. The fourth-year wideout, who experienced a setback last season because of a series of gaffes, vowed to make amends for his shortcomings by attacking the off-season and embracing the spotlight. Sure, Watkins was miscast as the team’s primary slot receiver. But when plays were there to be made – in critical moments – he fell short.

Watkins, who offers blistering speed, enters training camp with a distinct advantage over his competition, having worked with wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead for three seasons. And if we’re to take everything head coach Nick Sirianni says at face value – he’s been unrelentingly effusive in his Watkins praise – we should believe Watkins will get a fair chance to bounce back and stamp his role. But he won’t go uncontested.

Olamide Zaccheaus

The 26-year-old Zaccheaus not only provides experience, but the former St. Joe’s (Pa.) Prep standout also represents a viable contender to unseat Watkins as the No. 3 wide receiver. Unlike Watkins, Zaccheaus has proven to be sure-handed throughout his four-year career, credited with merely three drops on 151 pass targets over that span. Conversely, the 5-foot-8, 193-pound receiver doesn’t boast the length or electrifying long speed of Watkins, but his game is predicated on maneuvering the short-to-intermediate levels of the field and getting the ball in space to churn out yards.

Although he hasn’t done much of it since his 2019 rookie season, Zaccheaus provides added value as a punt returner. While Zaccheaus and Watkins offer varying skill sets, they’re both very much in contention for the same role. The team might be partial to the former, who might lack game-breaking elements compared to the latter, but the former represents an inviting, quarterback-friendly safety valve to work the middle of the field alongside tight end Dallas Goedert. Zaccheaus is one of the players I’m most interested to monitor in training camp this summer.

Britain Covey

While Covey failed to parlay his minicamp momentum into a head-turning training camp, the diminutive pass-catcher ultimately found his way onto the roster as the Eagles’ punt returner, appearing in all 17 games despite an early stint on the team’s practice squad. The oft-scrutinized Covey, who totaled just 19 offensive snaps last season, racked up 308 punt return yards on 33 opportunities. Though branded solely as a specialty player, Covey’s bid to make the 53 will be far more daunting this time, and in addition to showcasing a more dynamic body of work on returns, he will also likely have to prove he can contribute as a position player to crack the final roster. With depth roles essentially up for grabs in training camp, I’ll be keeping tabs on Covey’s progression as a wide receiver.

Greg Ward

GETTY IMAGES: Greg Ward (left) is back for his seventh season with the Eagles.

Greg Ward

Believe it or not, Ward will be entering his seventh training camp with the Eagles. Beloved by the team, the converted collegiate quarterback-turned-slot receiver actually led the Eagles in targets (79) receptions (53) and receiving touchdowns (6) way back in 2020. He’s also a great addition to the receiver room and a veteran from which younger players can draw upon.

Ward also offers punt return ability, albeit hardly of the game-breaking variety. But given Ward’s play style and obvious limitations, it’s fair to conclude the 27-year-old has already reached his ceiling. That’s not to say Ward won’t have a placement elsewhere in the NFL this year; it’s just difficult to fathom a team in dire need of playable outside depth allocating a roster spot to a one-dimensional pass-catcher.

Devon Allen

When Allen initially signed with the Eagles last spring, the subject was perceived to be the longest of longshots. A two-time Olympian, Allen hadn’t even played football since 2016, his junior season at Oregon. The 28-year-old ultimately defied logic, spending the entire 2022 season on the team’s practice squad on the heels on an encouraging summer.

Allen showcased his scorching downfield speed last summer, tracking a 55-yard deep post for a touchdown in a lopsided preseason win over the Browns, but even more notably, he showed well as a gunner in punt coverage. Signed to a reserve/futures deal in February, Allen is back for another opportunity to clinch a coveted roster spot.

While on the surface it hardly seems practical to afford a slot to a 28-year-old project, Allen can perhaps enhance his odds if he can provide value as a punt returner – an area in which the team could use an upgrade.

Tyrie Cleveland

GETTY IMAGES: Former Broncos WR Tyrie Cleveland is a sleeper to watch to make the Eagles’ 53.

Tyrie Cleveland

A late season addition to the team’s practice squad ahead of the deep postseason run, Cleveland, 25, has experience working in his favor. A seventh-round selection of the Denver Broncos in 2020, Cleveland went on to appear in 23 games, his most impactful contributions coming on special teams, where he logged 320 snaps. He also offers kick return ability, potentially representing dual-purpose value.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Cleveland, who boasts 4.4 speed, also happened to overlap with Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson when they were both at University of Florida. When it comes to deliberating final roster spots, the edge typically favors those who lend third phase value. Given his practice squad tenure, downfield speed, and special teams acumen – he made the Broncos’ 53 outright last summer – I wouldn’t be so hasty in writing off Cleveland as merely a camp body.

Joseph Ngata

Ngata, to me, is the most intriguing of the back-end pass-catchers vying for roster spots. The Clemson product was a tantalizing talent who I vividly recall forecasting breakthrough 2020 and 2021 campaign s– which, of course, never materialized for a multitude of reasons. A five-star recruit out of Folsom High School in Folsom, Ca., Ngata was forced to overcome a pair of injury plagued seasons, in addition to navigating the crowded receiver corps hierarchy.

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound wideout ultimately went on to appear in 45 games for the Tigers, corralling 88 receptions for 1,287 yards and six touchdowns. Ngata put forth his most productive body of work last season, reeling in 41 passes for 526 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles, who allocated to Ngata a total $230,000 of guaranteed money –including a $30,000 signing bonus — for an undrafted free agent, presumably intend on taking a long look at their newly acquired wide receiver. Perhaps the most well-rounded of the players listed, Ngata now faces a time crunch in terms of winning over Eagles brass.

Jadon Haselwood

Haselwood, who clocked in at a 4.66 at the NFL Scouting Combine, hardly projects as a dynamic vertical threat. But the role in which the 6-foot-2, 215-pound pass-catcher thrives is as a chain-moving possession receiver, one who primarily maneuvers the short-to-intermediate levels of the field.

Haselwood, who spent his first three seasons at Oklahoma – overlapping with Eagles’ quarterback Jalen Hurts in 2019 – saved his best for last, snaring 59 receptions for 702 yards and three touchdowns in his lone season at Arkansas. While Haselwood has demonstrated a knack for utilizing his big-bodied frame to his advantage in shielding defensive backs and competing for the football in traffic, his limitations would seemingly impede his path to a roster spot barring a dominant third phase showing in the preseason.

Charleston Rambo

ITB PHOTO: Charleston Rambo has caught passes from Jalen Hurts in college when they played at Oklahoma.

Charleston Rambo

A byproduct of a successful rookie minicamp tryout in May, Rambo was originally an undrafted free agent signee of the Carolina Panthers last spring, Rambo (6-1, 185) – who spent 2022 out of football – will have another opportunity to showcase his talents following a stint with the Orlando Guardians of the XFL. The former Oklahoma and Miami pass catcher, selected with the No. 4 overall pick on Day 2 of the XFL Draft, secured 31 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns in nine games last season for the Guardians.

Rambo in 2019 logged 43 receptions for 743 yards and five touchdowns for the Sooners with Hurts as his quarterback, while amassing 2,352 total yards and 16 total touchdowns as a collegian. This far down the depth chart, Rambo will likely have to bank on rekindling a connection fairly early in camp to reps.

It’s worth mentioning that Rambo doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of special teams, recording just 13 kick returns and a lone punt return in four seasons.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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