As Roster Cutdown Looms, Birds At Crossroads With Fulgham, JJAW
For a five-week stretch last season, Eagles wide receiver Travis Fulgham served as the perfect remedy for an ailing receiving corps.
Fulgham, who was promoted from the team’s practice squad ahead of the Week 3 clash against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football, accumulated 29 receptions (44 targets) for 435 yards and four touchdowns over that span, grossly overshadowing embattled former second-round pick, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Turns out, Fulham was only moonlighting as a top Eagles target. Over the final seven games, he totaled just nine receptions for 104 yards on 23 targets.
The shelf life of Fulgham’s midseason surge is nearing expiration as the third-year receiver – who entered training camp with a clear path to starter snaps – is now competing with Arcega-Whiteside for a depth role when the Eagles close out the preseason against the New York Jets on Friday night.
Fulgham’s disappearing act last year coincided with the return of Alshon Jeffery and inexplicably curbed his progression and relegated him to the sidelines.
The polarizing wideout admitted as much earlier this month when he spoke with reporters.
“Alshon came back healthy and that was his spot,” he said, “so I kind of just went back into my old role, I guess.”
But with Jeffery out of the picture, Fulgham entered his first full training camp in Philadelphia with a golden opportunity to seize one of the top three receiver spots. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound pass-catcher garnered plenty of offseason intrigue due to his red-zone upside and contested-catch ability, boasting the ideal frame and skill set that best complements the explosive tandem of DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor.
But Fulgham has turned in a largely uneven performance this summer. He has endured drops and detail lapses in his roster push, tumbling down the pecking order behind Quez Watkins and Greg Ward. At this point, he’s squarely on the roster fringe as cutdown day nears.
Like most depth players vying for roster spots, Fulgham’s job security will ultimately be determined by his third phase performance.
Against the Patriots, he was tied with linebacker Rashad Smith for third-most special teams snaps (11), so perhaps he can enhance his roster value in coverage against the Jets and cement his spot while striving to claw his way back into the receiver rotation.
If this coaching staff can unlock Fulgham’s potential and keep him engaged, it will add a sorely needed dimension to its revitalized aerial attack.
On the flipside, Arcega-Whiteside, who had been virtually written off before the start of camp, suddenly has a new lease on life.
To say that the oft-maligned Stanford product has underwhelmed through two seasons would be a profound understatement. In 24 games, Arcega-Whiteside has accrued just 14 receptions for 254 yards and a touchdown on 30 targets.
The Eagles invested premium draft capital on Arcega-Whiteside two years ago to be a red zone mismatch and thrive in contested-catch situations, but he has yet to exhibit any of those attributes. His route-running continues to lack precision, his hands remain a concern, and he still hasn’t shown that he can consistently utilize his frame to create separation.
While Arcega-Whiteside has been a non-factor during the regular season, he has caught attention for his productive training camps.
True to form, the 24-year-old has shown enough this summer to warrant one final evaluation, but the grace period is over. If this new coaching staff isn’t convinced Arcega-Whiteside can be productive when called on while doubling as a core special teamer, it won’t waste a roster spot to keep him.
The team has come to the crossroads with Fulgham and Arcega-Whiteside, two players who the team brimmed with optimism about at separate times.
Before they decide, the coaches must determine whether the regression trend for each can be reversed or is the hard truth about their futures.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
Listen to the latest “Inside The Birds” podcast from Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan here:
Or watch on YouTube: