Changing Of The Slot
2023 Season Preview Series: Birds Offense Boosted By Free Agent WR Pickup
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth story in a series by Inside The Birds’ Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles season. In Part 4, they name their most significant offensive free-agent addition for 2023).
GETTY IMAGES: Free-agent WR addition Olamide Zaccheaus will see plenty of the time in the slot.
Geoff Mosher: Olamide Zaccheaus
The Eagles return nearly every starter from an offense that last year averaged 28 points per game, third-best in the NFL.
So there wasn’t a whole lot of free-agent tinkering needed, especially for a group of playmakers that features wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith along with tight end Dallas Goedert, and even more so after the trade that brought in D’Andre Swift, who’s expected to be a breakout performer in 2023.
While the mone-year signing of running back Rashaad Penny would appear to be significant to replace the loss of Miles Sanders, it’s really another modest one-year addition that stands to have the biggest impact.
Olamide Zaccheaus, a former Falcons wideout known for smooth and reliable hands coupled with good-enough quickness to play inside and out, will have a far bigger impact than his contract suggests.
Zaccheaus, who comes off a 533-yard season in Atlanta, will challenge – and overtake – incumbent Quez Watkins in the slot, arming Jalen Hurts with another dependable target in a passing game that can actually be even better in 2023.
Last year’s fourth receiver, Zach Pascal, offered more as a blocker than vertical threat, but Zaccheaus can play anywhere.
If there’s an injury to Brown or Smith, the Eagles can put Watkins on the outside as a replacement and move Zaccheaus into the slot. If Brown and Smith once again stay healthy, Zaccheaus can still carve his niche on the inside ahead of Watkins, who offers more speed but less reliability.
Don’t expect 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdowns, but Zaccheaus will pick up some critical third downs this season and emerge into a secondary force over the middle alongside Goedert. In this offense, his skill set will blend perfectly.
Andrew DiCecco: Olamide Zaccheaus
Conventional wisdom prevents me from going with veteran signal-caller Marcus Mariota, a signing generally viewed as break-the-glass insurance for emergency situations.
Any substantial impact from Mariota would typically indicate a derailed season. But, in theory, the former Oregon standout could prove to be indispensable if he can regain some form of the player he once was in an abbreviated sample size, perhaps securing what Gardner Minshew failed to accomplish in a similar scenario this season, effectively preserving the health of franchise quarterback Jalen Hurts ahead of an expected deep postseason run.
The more obvious answer – at least from my perspective – would be Rashaad Penny, a snakebitten-but-multifaceted runner who provides an alternate dimension to a crowded backfield. And while the big-bodied slasher pairs well with the explosive D’Andre Swift, it’s tough to overlook the injury-riddled fine print – Penny has missed 37 games over the past four seasons – and expect a different result.
Assessing the wide receiver position beyond starters A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, however, underscores the plausibility of a changing of the guard at the No. 3 spot in the pecking order – or should I write “changing of the slot?”
Quez Watkins’ struggles last season are well-documented, as the embattled fourth-year wideout had a prominent hand in as many as four losses last season.
His standing is further impacted by the addition of Olamide Zaccheaus, a diminutive – albeit shifty – slot receiver who thrives in space.
Zaccheaus, tagged with only three drops on 151 career pass targets, represents a sure-handed intermediate outlet for Hurts, and his knack for churning out yards after the catch makes him a desirable safety valve for when Hurts is under duress.
While Zaccheaus might not match the electrifying deep speed of Watkins, he’s no slouch either. He provides a vastly different skill set and is a better fit from a functionality and consistency standpoint, especially on third-down and manageable down and distances.
Zaccheaus also adds value as a returner.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffpmosher) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and Senior staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com. Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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