We’re getting close to Eagles training camp so we’re taking a look at some notable camp competitions.
Up today: WR3
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The Eagles boast one of the best receiver duos in the NFL with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. And then if you add tight Dallas Goedert to that, there’s no secret that the Eagles’ passing offense runs through those three players first. That makes it extremely important that the third receiver is able to make the most of his opportunities. Quez Watkins didn’t exactly do that in 2022 so it’s fair to talk about a competition at that spot as we prepare for the 2023 season. Former Eagles receiver Zach Pascal joined the Cardinals as a free agent but the Eagles added Olamide Zaccheaus.
Let’s look at the players:
Experience: Year 4
Size: 6-foot, 193 pounds
Even Watkins knows he didn’t have a very good season last year. The production being down (33/354/3) was expected after the Eagles traded for Brown during the draft. Watkins went from the No. 2 receiver to the No. 3 so we all knew he wouldn’t have as much opportunity in 2023. The problem was he didn’t capitalize on the chances he did get last year and he made some major mistakes along the way, including a really rough drop in Super Bowl LVII. If you have limited opportunities, you have to make the most of them.
“I didn’t play my brand of football all year,” Watkins said after the 2022 season ended. “I never played this bad.”
Of course, we did see Watkins perform very well not that long ago. The formers sixth-round pick in 2021 caught 43 passes for 647 yards. That’s a better season than Zaccheaus ever had in his four years in Atlanta. And even though Watkins averaged a measly 10.7 yards per reception last year (play design had a lot to do with that) he does have one special trait: He has blazing speed. Watkins ran a 4.35 in the 40 during the pre-draft process in 2020 and in his career has six catches of 40+ yards. He also has the ability to play inside and in the slot.
During the spring, when asked to point out one player who impressed him during OTAs, head coach Nick Sirianni notably didn’t hesitate to name Watkins and Watkins alone. There are plenty of theories about why he did that but perhaps the Eagles still just really believe in Watkins and want to build his confidence up going into training camp.
Experience: Year 5
Size: 5-foot-8, 193 pounds
The Eagles signed the Philly native and former St. Joe’s Prep standout to a one-year contract during free agency. It’s a deal without much guaranteed money ($650K) but Zaccheus has the chance to come to camp and wrestle away an important role. Zaccheus went undrafted out of Virginia in 2019 and signed with the Falcons. He has steadily improved in each season he’s been in the NFL:
2019: 3 catches, 115 yards, 1 TD
2020: 20 catches, 274 yards, 1 TD
2021: 31 catches, 406 yards, 3 TD
2022: 40 catches, 533 yards, 3 TD
It’s also worth pointing out that Zaccheaus didn’t have a single drop in 2022 and has just 3 in his career on 151 targets. Here’s a look at the side-by-side drop numbers for Watkins and Zaccheaus in their careers and where they rank in drop% among players with at least 120 targets since the start of the 2019 season:
Watkins: 6 drops in 126 targets; 4.8% drop rate (108th/193)
Zaccheaus: 3 drops in 151 targets: 2.0% drop rate (10th/193)
And while Zaccheaus certainly has the body type of a slot-only receiver, he has played plenty on the outside during his NFL career. In fact, Zaccheaus played 394 snaps in the slot last season and 338 out wide, according to PFF.
The Eagles have plenty of other receivers on their roster but it seems unlikely any of them will compete for real playing time this season. Most of them won’t even have a legitimate shot to make the team. The top other receiver is still Britain Covey; the second-year UDFA was the Eagles’ primary punt returner in 2022. After that, the Eagles have Greg Ward, who was on the practice squad again last year. They also have Tyrie Cleveland, Jadon Haselwood, Joseph Ngata and Charleston Rambo on the roster. Of that group, Ngata might be the most intriguing as a UDFA.
Maybe there’s still a shot the Eagles trade Watkins but if they don’t, he and Zaccheus will still be on the team. Remember, the fourth receiver last year was Pascal and even though he’s a much different player than Zaccheus, he still saw some time. So there’s a good chance that both Watkins and Zaccheus play on offense this year. For now, I’d expect Watkins to retain his WR3 spot but we’ll see how much Zaccheus can push him in training camp.