Breaking down competition for Eagles' last WR spot

Breaking down competition for Eagles' last WR spot

August 24, 2014, 5:00 pm
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If the Eagles elect to keep six wide receivers, there are several candidates for the final spot. But who has the best chance to stick with the team? (AP/USA Today Images)

A simple formation during a warmup drill Sunday at the NovaCare Complex could be fairly indicative of the Eagles’ wide receiver situation going into the season.

During a hurry-up drill with the first offense, Jeremy Maclin lined up in the right slot, with rookie Jordan Matthews split wide right and Riley Cooper split wide left. Brent Celek lined up in at tight end. In football lexicon, the Eagles were in 11 personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end).

Brad Smith, who’s been practicing as the first-team slot receiver for most of camp and the preseason, wasn’t in the formation.

What’s that mean for Smith’s security? Probably not much. Smith’s versatility is still his best attribute. Along with playing wideout he can play running back, return kicks and be an emergency quarterback. He’s a member of the “core four” special teams, an asset Chip Kelly loves to point out.

Assuming that Smith has made the team along with Cooper, Maclin, Matthews and rookie Josh Huff, the Eagles have several other receivers competing for the sixth spot. Or, the coaches could easily decide that nobody is deserving and enter the season with five wideouts.

Here’s a breakdown of the remaining wide receivers and their likelihood of making the team:

Jeff Maehl
Not sure what the love affair is with Maehl, despite his Oregon pedigree, but Kelly seems to be fond of him. Once he got his foot issue resolved in camp, Maehl slid right back into his role. He was the first backup receiver (not counting Matthews) to get on the field against the Steelers and played 25 snaps, the most behind Maclin, Cooper and Matthews. Of all the backups, he has the most experience in Kelly’s college and NFL offense. Right now, it sure seems he’d be the sixth guy.

Arrelious Benn
Benn caught some lightning in a bottle against the Patriots, grabbing a touchdown that wasn’t meant for him and blocking a punt. But he really hasn’t done anything else. And his run of staying healthy came to an end against the Steelers when he sustained a concussion. He’s a good special teams player and has good size, but he just hasn’t produced consistently in the preseason games. If he can recover and play against the Jets, Benn might have a chance to prove he belongs on the roster.

Ifeanyi Momah
He’s had a way, way better camp and preseason than last year, but Momah is still a project who isn’t yet ready for the 53-man roster. After logging plenty of first-team reps in the first two preseason games, the 6-foot-7 wideout didn’t play against Pittsburgh until the second half. He didn’t catch a pass and played just 19 snaps, or two fewer than B.J. Cunningham, who was released Saturday. Momah should see plenty of action against the Jets in his bid to make the practice squad.

Damaris Johnson
Johnson has actually performed well in camp, but his ship has sailed. Backup receivers need to be special teams contributors and Johnson’s only special teams asset is returning kicks, and he’s not even an outstanding return specialist. He really doesn’t have any value on the roster, so Thursday night should be his swan song in an Eagles uniform.

Quron Pratt
I’d call him a sleeper. I asked a few cornerbacks recently which bottom-roster receiver has stood out. Pratt’s name came up a few times. He played 16 snaps against the Steelers and caught two passes for 20 yards. In total, he’s caught five passes for 59 yards this preseason. He has the third-most receiving yards on the team this preseason. But I don’t think see the former Rutgers standout (and South Jersey native) making the 53-man roster. He’ll continue his audition for the practice squad against the Jets.

Will Murphy
Forget roster spot competition. Let’s ponder this question: Why is he even on the team? (Oh, he went to Oregon?). Murphy walked on at Oregon and finished his illustrious career there with 240 yards and a touchdown in 30 games. Compare that to the recently-cut B.J. Cunningham, who is merely the all-time leading receiver at Michigan State, ahead of Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason and Muhsin Muhammad. Nothing against Murphy, but what’s done to prove he should still be here?

Get used to the idea of the Eagles coming out of their roster cutdown with five wideouts. Doesn’t mean they can’t add a sixth from waivers or free agency, but there’s no glaring candidate for the sixth spot. Momah isn’t ready and he’s not an excellent special teamer. Benn just hasn’t done enough. Maehl’s a Kelly favorite but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s an NFL player.

The Eagles could instead go heavier at running back, an area where they’ve got much more depth. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are locks, but Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey and Kenjon Barner each bring value to the offense.

If they do keep six receivers, the lead candidate is Maehl and I’m not sure he has another challenger unless Benn plays lights-out against the Jets (assuming he’s back from his concussion). Pratt is the X-factor. He’s been excellent on special teams, and if the coaches think he’s equally capable of occupying Maehl’s spot on special teams and can make some plays as a receiver, there’s a small chance Pratt could find his way onto the 53-man roster.

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