2020 Season Preview: Questions at Receiver, Running Back
This is the sixth story of a lengthy series from now until the start of training camp by Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the Eagles' 2020 season. Each weekday, Mosher and DiCecco will give their viewpoint on a specific topic. Today's category:
Weakest Position, Offense
Andrew's Choice: Wide receiver
Though the revamped Eagles’ receiving corps figures to add a sorely needed vertical element to an otherwise methodical offense, questions remain prevalent, albeit for different reasons.
Last season, Alshon Jeffery’s 2019 campaign got off to a promising start. He totaled nearly 50 yards and a key touchdown in the opener against Washington. The following week, he suffered a calf injury, and weeks later, a hip injury. He was eventually shelved for the season after suffering a Lisfranc injury in a late-season clash with the Giants. The Eagles’ top receiver finished with 43 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games.
DeSean Jackson’s Philadelphia homecoming lasted all of one week. Like Jeffery, Jackson played a prominent role in the comeback victory over Washington, reeling in eight receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns on nine targets. In the hours that followed his electrifying debut with Carson Wentz, it was revealed that Jackson suffered a core muscle injury. After initially putting it off, Jackson underwent surgery two months later.
Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside each struggled despite their opportunities. The maligned trio was largely to blame for the offense’s struggles as each receiver continuously sunk drives with inopportune drops and insufficient downfield separation. This led to an inevitable shakeup, as practice squad holdover Greg Ward rejoined the team late in the season and became the Eagles’ most consistent receiver down the stretch.
It would take a few bad breaks, but the retooled group could experience similar struggles in 2020.
Jeffery will likely begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, leaving the 33-year-old Jackson as the de facto top target. Jackson, who hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since 2013, is also returning his surgery. Arcega-Whiteside will be asked to assume a starting role after a turbulent 10-catch first season marred by injury and inconsistency. One of the few true ‘X’ receivers on the roster, Arcega-Whiteside must take a monumental step forward in Year 2.
The team invested a first-round pick in former TCU standout Jalen Reagor, and while he offers tremendous upside, Reagor will begin by learning the ‘Z’ position behind Jackson, though it's probable that the explosive pass-catcher emerges from training camp with a starting role.
Ward is still very much in the picture as a slot option, while the team also added veteran speedster Marquise Goodwin on draft weekend via trade. John Hightower and Quez Watkins are intriguing Day 3 selections who can flat-out fly but as late-round picks face uphill battles to make the team. Given the abbreviated offseason and short supply of reps, it’s unlikely that either player will be ready to contribute in 2020.
In a perfect scenario, Jackson stays healthy for the majority of the season, Arcega-Whiteside takes the next step, and Reagor proves to be a quick study. However, one miscalculation could force the team back to square one.
Geoff's Choice: Running back
Had a time tough here choosing between wide receiver and running back. I know Andrew's very high on Boston Scott as a backup, and we're all very optimistic about the potential of Miles Sanders after an impressive rookie season, but we've only really seen Scott in small doses and I'm still skeptical if he could handle the No. 1 role if Sanders were to get hurt. Corey Clement just hasn't stayed heathy enough for two years to merit benefit of the doubt, and the rest of the pack – Elijah Holyfield and rookie free agents Mike Warren and Adrian Killins Jr. – all have to prove they belong on the team. So while the Eagles are top-heavy at this position, they're lacking in depth. And running back is a tough position to maintain at full strength.
Surely, Sanders has the opportunity to have a better year than any receiver on the Eagles' roster, but if Howie Roseman had the chance right now to sign another running back or another receiver, he's going running back. Roseman tried to sign Carlos Hyde and he's very likely to be scouring the free-agent market over the next few weeks, and especially after roster cut-down date, to add another veteran to the position. So while I'm expecting Sanders to have the best season of any receiver or running back, as a whole, the Eagles are a tad deeper and stronger at receiver. When healthy, Jackson is one of the league's preeminent deep threats. If Arcega-Whiteside struggles again, the door is open for either Reagor or Goodwin to get more reps. Ward showed last year that he can be a productive, even if unspectacular, slot receiver. It's certainly not a position of tremendous strength, but for now, receiver from top to bottom appears to have less question marks than running back. Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the Inside the Birds podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com. Andrew DiCecco (adicecconfl) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com.
Listen to the latest "Inside the Birds" podcast here: