'He Can Be A Leader:' But Where Does Greg Ward Fit?
Last summer, it appeared the last grain of sand had finally passed through the hourglass for Greg Ward's prospects of making the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ward had finished off yet another impressionable training camp – his third with the Eagles – but appeared to be stuck in an endless numbers game.
By that point, cutdown day had become old hat for the former University of Houston quarterback-turned-NFL receiver. He had once again outperformed his fellow bubble comrades only to be denied a roster spot and ultimately re-signed to the practice squad.
While Ward mired in obscurity on the practice squad, injuries began to debilitate the wide receiver position. As casualties mounted, the unit suddenly consisted of an unsteady veteran – Alshon Jeffery – and pair of reserves thrust into roles that stretched beyond their capabilities. Predictably, the results were underwhelming.
Following his long-awaited promotion late in the season, Ward quickly evolved into the team’s most dependable receiver. Over the final six weeks of the regular season, Ward turned 40 targets into 28 receptions for 254 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps his finest work came in back-to-back divisional clashes with New York and Washington. With the season seemingly hinging on every snap, Ward totaled 11 catches for 132 yards – including a game-winning touchdown.
Despite his late-season heroics, Ward is hardly assured a prominent role in 2020. However, while the potential upgrades provide explosive traits that Ward can't match, new wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead is already fond of the fourth-year pro.
“Greg’s been great,” Moorehead said in a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday. “He’s one of the leaders of the room, if not the leader, and really, so far, he’s exceeded my expectations.” Given all the moving parts, how does Ward fit into the big picture?
He’ll have the opportunity to emerge from the depths as the team’s starting slot receiver. The share of reps he receives will be largely contingent on the developments of rookie Jalen Reagor and second-year pro J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and also the offense's usage of personnel. Doug Pederson played more two tight-end formations than any other team last year, a formation that doesn't use a slot receiver. Also, according to ITB’s Geoff Mosher, the unsettled position battle got a bit murkier last week, as Arcega-Whiteside has recently been seeing time in the slot, which is Ward's purest position.
Ward’s slight stature – 5-foot-11, 186 pounds – coupled with middling speed likely limits him to the slot only. However, the team also has slot options in Reagor and now Arcega-Whiteside. DeSean Jackson has also occasionally moved into the slot. The anticipatory early-season return of Alshon Jeffery – the team’s primary ‘X’ option – further complicates the positional outlook.
While Reagor and fellow rookies John Hightower and Quez Watkins are all projections at this stage, and Arcega-Whiteside remains a question mark following a disappointing rookie season, Ward adds value from a dependability standpoint. Aside from Jackson, Ward is the unit’s only other healthy veteran. With quality of play expected to be less than stellar in the early goings due to an altered offseason because of the coronavirus, having a veteran like Ward to provide stability and mentorship could be an overlooked asset.
“I think for him now it’s just a matter of continuing to get better each and every day and putting in the work,” Doug Pederson said. “We expect some really big things from Greg. He can also be a leader. He can be a leader of that group. Him and [WR] DeSean Jackson, [WR] Alshon Jeffery, these guys, they can be leaders now and mentors to the young players.” – Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network. Catch the latest "Inside the Birds" podcast here: