Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith join Jordan Matthews to give the Eagles potentially one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the league. So why is the position considered such an immediate need that it would warrant the use of a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft?
The answer is simple. The possibility exists that none of Jeffery, Smith or Matthews will still be Eagles one year from now. Jeffery and Matthews are free agents in 2018, while Smith's three-year contract is essentially just a string of team options. There's no guarantee any of the trio is back, and chances are at least one is out.
Depth at wideout isn't exactly reassuring, either. Nelson Agholor could grow now that the spotlight is off, but has done nothing over two seasons to merit a role in the offense. A physical specimen who should dominate, yet often disappears, the Dorial Green-Beckham experiment remains a mystery.
The Eagles are a year away from having the same, old questions at wide receiver, and an injury away from having the same, old questions pop up again in '17. A case could be made the club should take another receiver if only so we don't have to hear about it anymore.
Naturally, what the Eagles decide to do their first-round pick is entirely circumstantial. Who's available when they're on the clock? What kind of offers are on the table to trade either up or down? What is Howie Roseman's vision for the future, and who inside the war room has his ear?
Receiver isn't necessarily the target with the No. 14 pick, but few people would complain if it worked out that way – least of all Carson Wentz. Frankly, the Eagles should build around their franchise quarterback. At the same time, while another wideout could be nice in theory, it might not be the best route for '17.
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Creating a logjam
True, receiver is a need, and ideally, teams would address every position with a first-round pick. In this case, however, the unintended consequences could outweigh the benefits.
For starters, how often do the Eagles have four receivers on the field together? It's not unheard of, but it's not the norm, either. Four wide isn't the ideal formation to run out of, nor is it frequently the alignment of choice in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Quite often, when the offense goes four wide, it's not even four actual receivers – running back Darren Sproles and/or tight end Zach Ertz are probably out there.
The Eagles cannot anticipate four high-profile receivers getting the playing time and targets they all deserve. Ultimately, any attempt to do so threatens to cut into the opportunities for Jeffery and Matthews in particular, both of whom face a critical evaluation in ‘17 – unless the front office already decided against handing out expensive, long-term contract extensions.
The effects would be felt at the back end of the roster as well. Typically, the fourth and fifth receivers on the depth chart are regular contributors. That's not something Jeffery, Smith or Matthews have done a lot of in recent years, nor is it a common expectation of a wide receiver taken No. 14 overall.
Not only do the Eagles lack viable means to utilize four receivers with any type of consistency – barring a trade involving Matthews – but going top heavy at the position probably weakens the squad in the short-term. This is an example where one or two mid-round, developmental prospects with the potential to become a core-four specialist would be a better way to meet the current needs of the roster.
More pressing needs
Nobody is denying the Eagles could still use some help at receiver, but is it truly a priority after Roseman's spending spree? As long as Smith produces, the team options are very affordable. The Eagles could use the franchise tag to restrict Jeffrey's movement in free agency next offseason, provided he's worth the investment. Matthews would be open to signing an extension at any point, if the interest is mutual.
While the Eagles must prepare for the possibility that any combination of three could depart or return in '18, the least likely scenario is a complete turnover. Assuming at least one, more likely two and possibly even all of Jeffery, Smith and Matthews are going to be back, there are simply bigger fish to fry right now.
Cornerback is a glaring hole. The defensive line is an underrated concern. Running back is a great, big question mark. There could be an opening at linebacker. An offensive tackle would put some minds at ease.
Receiver is certainly somewhere in the mix, and the Eagles are not so well off there they can afford to pass on the top talent on the board if that's the position he happens to play. Then again, if there's any sort of tie with a player at one of those spots, the front office has an imperative to go the other direction here.
If there's one truth about Eagles fans, they love wide receivers, and getting a Mike Williams, John Ross or Corey Davis would result in plenty of enthusiasm. Whether that scenario is actually practical or not is a bit of a different story.