2023 Season Preview Series: These Birds Will Be Most Improved
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 13th story in a series by Inside The Birds’ Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles season. In Part 13, they identify which Eagles will be the most improved player in 2023).
Geoff Mosher: Quez Watkins
By most metrics, Quez Watkins took a step back in 2023.
He had fewer catches and far fewer receiving yards than he posted in 2022, but obviously, the addition of A.J. Brown last offseason to pair with DeVonta Smith basically foreshadowed a reduced role for the 2020 seventh-round pick.
Watkins even saw his impressive yards-per-catch average drop nearly five yards, from 15.0 to 10.7, which was the most glaring sign that the team’s speediest receiver just wasn’t himself in 2022.
But with the addition of Olamide Zaccheaus, a versatile receiver who can flourish here in the slot, the Eagles don’t have to force-feed Watkins into the slot role anymore.
Watkins played more than 60 percent of his snaps inside last year, which isn’t the best usage for a receiver with 4.3 speed and less-than-precise route-running acumen.
I would anticipate the Eagles helping Watkins’ growth this season by playing him more on the perimeter more and letting Watkins win with sideline speed and deep-ball tracking outside the numbers.
Watkins made some memorable moments for the wrong reasons in 2022. This year, he’ll be the best version of himself.
Andrew DiCecco: Zech McPhearson
The Eagles’ cornerback hierarchy has a known pecking order.
Darius Slay and James Bradberry lead the way as starters bracketing the perimeter while Avonte Maddox – when healthy – represents one of the league’s top nickel defenders.
Beyond those three, however, the slotting of Greedy Williams, Kelee Ringo, and Zech McPhearson has been all over the map, often dependent on viewpoint. There’s also second-year holdover Josh Jobe and intriguing rookie free agent Eli Ricks who factor into the muddied equation.
While I won’t dispute the notion of Williams and Ringo having a drastically higher upside than those mentioned, McPhearson, to me, has the clearest path to prominently contributing in 2023.
For starters, McPhearson, a third-year pro, has cross-trained exclusively at nickel in the spring, a position many – including myself – had him pegged for coming out of Texas Tech.
His short-area quickness and physicality seemingly make him a natural fit inside as opposed to the perimeter, where he’s spent the past two seasons.
In a closely contested battle for positioning, his ability to provide versatility will only enhance his appeal.
And as valuable as Maddox might be as a multi-faceted defender, he hasn’t exactly had a clean bill of health throughout his career, making McPhearson’s cross-training all the more notable.
History suggests the 25-year-old McPhearson will have more of an opportunity to make an impact than his 99 snaps in 2022 did.
Then there’s McPhearson’s poignant third-phase offering.
Among the league’s top gunners and an emerging leader for coordinator Michael Clay, McPhearson will be prominently tasked with navigating a unit marred with untimely gaffes to an elevated standard.
The opportunities for the third-year pro to demonstrate tangible growth should be ample.
– 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.
Follow the whole series:
Part 1: Most impactful rookie
Part 2: Biggest second-year player impact
Part 3: Breakout 2023 performer
Part 4: Most significant free-agent addition, offense
Part 5: Most significant free-agent addition, defense
Part 6: Strong position, offense
Part 7: Strongest position, defense
Part 8: Most poised for decline
Part 9: Biggest individual concern
Part 10: Biggest team concern
Part 11: Best camp battle, offense
Part 12: Best camp battle, defense
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