It’s not an official Philadelphia Eagles season until their No. 1 wide receiver goes down with an injury. Unfortunately for Nick Sirianni and company, that happened a bit early this year when star rookie DeVonta Smith suffered a sprained MCL in training camp.
Without Smith, the Eagles might have the most uninspiring group of wide receivers in the entire NFL, so someone will need to step up if Jalen Hurts expects to make a jump in his sophomore season. So far in camp, that someone has surprisingly been second-year WR Quez Watkins.
DeVonta Smith’s injury has created a troubling hole in the Eagles’ WR room
Wide receiver has been the biggest hole on Philadelphia’s roster ever since they won the Super Bowl in 2018. And even then, the combination of Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor was far from the team’s strongest position group.
The Eagles addressed the position in the last two NFL drafts by selecting Jalen Reagor in 2020 and Smith in 2021, but the WR room heading into the season is as inexperienced as you’ll find around the league. The projected starters (Smith, Reagor, and Greg Ward) have played just 34 games in the NFL combined. Travis Fulgham, who showed some flashes of brilliance last season, also has a chance to steal first-team snaps if he can find some more consistency.
Behind the top four, second-year wideouts Watkins and John Hightower expect to see more snaps this year. JJ Arcega-Whiteside, the colossal draft bust as a second-round pick in 2019, might not even crack the 53-man roster.
Not a single wide receiver on the Eagles has proven they deserve to be a starter on a competitive NFL team, and that includes Smith. Who’s going to be the guy to step up this season?
All indications so far point to Watkins.
Quez Watkins is a surprise name turning heads at training camp
When the Eagles drafted Watkins in the sixth round of last year’s NFL draft, fans were intrigued by his speed and athleticism, but they didn’t expect him to contribute much as an unpolished receiver.
The Southern Miss product reeled in seven of his 15 targets last season for 106 yards and a touchdown. It was an encouraging rookie year for a late-round pick who didn’t see much of the field in 2020.
But don’t be surprised if we see a breakout sophomore campaign from the speedy wideout.
Watkins has been the star of the WR room a few weeks into training camp. According to Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP, he’s recorded 13 catches and four touchdowns in team drills through 10 practices. That includes a spectacular, 50-yard touchdown catch in which he outjumped veteran safety Anthony Harris and expertly high-pointed the ball for the score.
Local beat reporters who get to watch the team practice every day have been raving about Watkins this month. Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia called Watkins the “best overall receiver” in camp this summer. Mike Kaye of NJ.com said he’s been “sensational” over the last few weeks.
Is it possible the Eagles finally hit on a wideout?
The Eagles need Watkins to continue his impressive camp into the season
The 2021 season is going to be a crucial one for Hurts. It’s his first chance to prove the Eagles should commit to building around him into the future. If he flops in his first full year as the starter, Philly could begin to look elsewhere next offseason.
With a depleted, unproven group of weapons around him, that’s a real possibility for Hurts in year two. Smith should give him a go-to target who can get open in any situation, but there’s no guarantee anyone behind the former Alabama star can step up to help Hurts in 2021.
Watkins has been doing just that in training camp, and he might have to do the same once Week 1 rolls around next month.