5 questions Eagles offseason didn't answer: Receiver


Is Jordan Matthews a No. 1 receiver?

Matthews is quite possibly the most underrated player on the Eagles. Yes, dropped passes were a major issue last season, and no, he didn't reach 1,000 yards receiving. Yet had a wide receiver accomplished what he has in his first two seasons during almost any other period, people would be over the moon. In fact, you probably should be anyway.

Only four receivers in NFL history have produced more than Matthews' 152 receptions, 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns over their first two seasons in the league — Odell Beckham, Marques Colston, Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green. Take catches out of the equation, and only go by the pure production of yards and scores, then just 17 others have exceeded those totals.

None of which answers the question posed, which is whether Matthews is a true feature receiver. There's a feeling the 23-year-old's numbers are inflated somewhat from playing in Chip Kelly's uptempo offense. Matthews has also been utilized almost exclusively as a slot receiver, and hasn't been tested by many elite cornerbacks, or very often, even defensive backs his own size.

It's fair to say Matthews has to prove he can post similar or better numbers on the outside. Then again, there's little reason to doubt he can. At 6'3", 212 pounds with 4.4 speed, the 2014 second-round pick has the build and athleticism to succeed anywhere on the field. And no matter how Matthews came about his numbers, the stats are undeniable. He might not be Antonio Brown or Julio Jones, but the Eagles could do worse for a No. 1 receiver.

Can the Eagles stretch the field?

There's no denying the Eagles had issues throwing deep in 2015. Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez combined to attempt 59 passes of 20 yards or more — only six teams tried fewer. But was the problem with the offense, the quarterbacks' unwillingness or inability to throw downfield, or was it the lack of a vertical threat in the offense?

Obviously, they lack a wide receiver with rare speed like a DeSean Jackson who can blow the top off of the defense at any given moment. Of course, while that helps, you don't necessarily need a track star to go deep. In 2014, Jeremy Maclin's seven receptions of 40 yards or more were third in the NFL, and based on 40 times, he's no faster than Nelson Agholor and only has Matthews by a few tenths of a second.

For what it's worth, Bradford wasn't ineffective when going deep. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles' starter ranked 15th out of 35 qualifying passers in terms of accuracy on 20-yard-plus attempts. He simply didn't look long with much frequency, finishing 29th in percentage of attempts. Was it a symptom of the scheme, or was nobody open?

It looks like we're going find out. Aside from signing Chris Givens and T.J. Graham, not much was done to address the supposed speed issue, and neither of those guys are locks to make the team. With a move to the outside, Matthews might be a more viable deep threat, as should Agholor simply being in his second season. However, there's nobody right now that scares defenses.

Who's in the slot?

For as dynamic as people claim Chip Kelly to be, he was pretty much the only head coach in the NFL last season who used one player exclusively in the slot — Matthews. Chances are good Doug Pederson is going to mix things up more than that.

Interestingly, the Kansas City Chiefs deployed their best receiver — Maclin — from the slot almost half the time they went three-wide in 2015. If we're to take anything away from that usage, Matthews will continue in that role a significant amount of time. Then again, that still only accounted for 13 percent of Maclin's snaps all season, while the Chiefs rotated a trio of players into that spot.

It's worth mentioning the Chiefs' usage of Maclin might also be a reflection of the team's personnel. Alex Smith isn't a quarterback known for throwing outside the numbers, so in order to make the most of their biggest weapon, they may have been forced to move him inside.

While Matthews will move around the formation, don't be surprised if he's not the primary slot receiver, especially if he thrives on the outside. Both Agholor and Josh Huff might be better suited for the role anyway. Some scouts felt Agholor was a pure slot receiver coming out of college, while short, quick-hitting routes would probably benefit Huff, who excels running after the catch. Watch for more two-tight end formations as well. Whatever winds up being the case, don't expect the same rigid approach the Eagles had under Kelly.

Is this finally going to be Zach Ertz's breakout year?

Perhaps Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have set the bar unrealistically high for today's young tight ends, because most would consider 75 receptions and 853 yards a borderline Pro Bowl year for the position. If the entirety of Zach Ertz's 2015 campaign didn't impress, he certainly announced his arrival over the final four games, going off for 35 catches and 450 yards — a historic run for a tight end to close out a season.

Keep in mind, 2015 was an injury-plagued season for Ertz as well. The fourth-year tight end missed essentially all of training camp and the preseason with a core muscle injury, missing out on critical time to build a rapport with his new quarterback. He later missed one game and most of another due to a concussion. Even Ertz's meager touchdown total of two is explained away somewhat, as he had multiple scores erased by penalties.

If the expectation is Ertz become the next Gronk, well, nobody can help there. It's difficult to say Pederson is even the coach to squeeze significantly more out of the former second-round pick. Kansas City's Travis Kelce, another budding star tight end, posted similar numbers last season with 72 catches, 875 yards and five scores.

Although with a year of good health and a familiarity with the QB, Ertz's first 1,000-yard season and Pro Bowl might be inevitable. If that's what it takes to be considered a breakout year, sure, 2016 may well be it.

Will the Eagles get enough production at wide receiver?

The answer here probably lies somewhere in Nelson Agholor — no pressure there, young man. Matthews should be good for 1,000 yards, while having two tight ends like Ertz and Brent Celek or a dynamic running back like Darren Sproles should deflect some of the pressure off the receivers. That being said, to have a truly formidable offense, the Eagles likely need one more consistent set of hands to emerge.

After investing last year's first-round pick, the Eagles are hoping Agholor can improve upon last year's 23-catch, 283-yard season. Fortunately, there's little reason to think he can't. People can be quick to write off young players, not to mention have become spoiled by the recent crop of incredible receivers coming into the league, but it's not uncommon for rookies at the position to experience a jump in production in year two. Agholor also dealt with an ankle injury that cost him three games.

The Eagles bought themselves some insurance in Rueben Randle, just in case Agholor does succumb to the dreaded B-word. The former New York Giant has racked up at least 600 yards in each of the past three seasons along with 17 total touchdowns, which would be just fine as a secondary option. Then again, there was a reason Randle was available deep into free agency, so there's no guarantees there, nor with the fliers taken on veterans Givens and Graham.

Considering there are even doubts about Matthews as the primary option, there's no easy way to look at this situation and come away convinced the Eagles are set at wideout. There is plenty of talent though, and if only Agholor can live up to his potential, the amount and variety of options at the quarterback's disposal should make for a solid attack.

5 Questions: O-line, D-line

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