The Stench That Lingers: The Annual Philadelphia Eagles Wide Reciever Debate
You know it's April when...
The Mets are talking about winning the division, because, well April is the only time they can talk.
Mel Kiper Jr. is getting way too much air time, because, well what else does he do at ESPN?
Jeff Van Gundy is riding the jock of the hot NBA team, almost guaranteeing that team a first round exit, because, well he's great at being wrong.
And the Philadelphia Eagles faithful are talking about wide receivers.
When the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Carolina Panthers in the 2003 NFC Championship game, it was obvious that Todd Pinkston and James Thrash (Lovingly referred to by fans as Stinkston and Trash) were below average wideouts. So obvious in fact that the second most famous set of initials in sports was brought to town.
That year, the Eagles swept their way through the NFC East, the NFC (albeit sans the aforementioned initials), and were within four points of taking home a Lombardi trophy.
The aftermath of that has been documented to death as has the recurring nightmare of internet articles posing the same question:
"Do the Eagles need a No. 1 WR to win a Super Bowl?"
Andy and the front office always give the same answer though; N-O. But since T.O., the Eagles have brought in Dante Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Bethel Johnson, Kevin Curtis, and even tried to lure Randy Moss away from NE.
Every time there's news of a disgruntled WR somewhere, the Eagles are apparently interested in making a trade. They even, very briefly, entertained the idea of Lito Shepherd playing both ways.
Hardly the actions of a team supremely confident in the WR corp.
Add that to the inability to duplicate or even come close to the success of 2004, until the incredible run last year, and the debate never has a chance to die.
But it's time for it to do just that.
When it comes to the "West Coast Offense," which Andy Reid runs a variation of, the first thoughts that spring to mind of any football fan worth his face paint is the San Francisco 49ers.
So it's only natural to look for the John Taylor's or the Jerry Rice's on the Eagles' roster. At least the Eagles have a "Brent" in Celek, but he's still a ways from drawing comparisons to Jones.
Believe me, I understand, because I've been guilty of it too, but there is no comparison. That era is dead and gone.
The Eagles, at least in the Reid era, have never been quite bad enough to crack the top five of the draft order, but hey, Brian Westbrook did practically fall in their lap, so it's hard to complain too much. Still, that leaves the Fitzgeralds, Rogers, and Crabtrees of the world just out of reach.
The fact that they have been so competitive for so long seems to poke holes in the debate, as does looking at the most recent Super Bowl winners.
None more glaring than the fact that Larry Fitzgerald put in one of the single best performances by a wideout in the big dance only to watch little known Santonio Holmes make the catch people are still talking about.
The Ravens, Patriots, Bucs, Colts, Steelers, and Giants all won with defense, and only the Colts had a premier tandem of wideouts. The Giants had Burress, but it was Tyree who made the most important catch of the game.
So why all this talk about needing a No. 1 WR?
Still, everywhere you turn this time of year all you hear is, "Man, if the Eagles got McNabb (insert uber talented and disgruntled WR's name here) then they'd win the Super Bowl!"
I say it's time to put that argument to rest.
The Eagles will win the Superbowl if the sum of their parts is better than the sum of the other teams.
If the Eagles' defense can stop the other team when they need to.
If the Eagles' offense can score points when they have the chance to.
If the Eagles' special teams wins the field position game.
Believe me, as good as Chad Johnson, Anquan Boldin, or whoever else may be, they can't sack quarterbacks or kick field goals. And recent history has proven that having a Larry Fitzgerald isn't as vital as having a James Harrison.
Plus, you know what?
For the first time in years, actually ever, I can honestly say that this is the most talented group Philadelphia has ever had.
I'll pause to let that sink in.
Back from laughing or staring in disbelief? Good. Now let me explain.
In the past, the Eagles have had one dependable wide receiver and a bunch of substitute teachers. Guys good for a standout game or two, but essentially not particularly good.
There are four guys on this current roster who deserve more respect than they're getting.
DeSean Jackson, though a rookie, is the standout. Fast, agile, and like another favorite little Philly guy, tough. He's only going to get better as long as he stays committed to being the best, which he seems to have the drive to do.
He's the vertical threat that Pinkston was, with the exception that he actually knows how to get off the line against press coverage.
Kevin Curtis may be the most complete receiver in that he may not be as fast as Jackson; he is fast. He's not as sure handed as Avant, but he's got very good hands. Plus, he is definitely the best route runner right now of the group.
Now that he's fully healed from his injury look for McNabb and him to develop even greater chemistry.
Jason Avant has become the Robert Horry of the group. He's the guy that you don't even notice until he's making a clutch third down grab in the middle of your zone defense. He may be the best at reading the opposing teams coverage and finding the soft spot. Something Mr. Owens has yet to master himself.
I'll be the first to admit that Hank Baskett is a bit of an enigma. At times, he'll be absolutely brilliant, then at other times disappear completely. Though not known for his speed, his size and physical play make up for the lack of fleet feet.
With Greg Lewis and L.J. Smith gone, look for the Eagles to work him out in the red-zone more. I expect a break out year for the young receiver.
So, even though I would not be opposed to bringing in a top flight player at the receiver position for the right price, it's no longer the need that it was in past offseasons. No longer a glaringly weak position on the roster.
I know the debate will rage on and most will probably have compelling arguments as to why I am so very wrong in my assessment:
"They're not big, fast, clutch, talented enough..." blah blah blah
I've got to say it feels good to look at the Eagles' WR depth chart lately.
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