For the second year in a row, the Philadelphia Eagles spent their top draft pick on a wide receiver. In 2020, it was TCU standout Jalen Reagor. In April’s draft, it was Alabama receiver—and National Championship Game MVP—DeVonta Smith. Those two combine with some journeymen and veterans to comprise a group for second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts.
There are plenty of options—and at least a couple who’ve been high picks in rookie drafts in recent years—but who can you count on in 2021? Before we consider the candidates, let’s consider the passer—Hurts.
Hurts was a second-round pick in 2020 draft, and his selection was a mild surprise given that the team had Carson Wentz in place. Wentz and the Eagles struggled, and Hurts was given a chance to start the final four games of the season. He went 1-3 as a starter, throwing for 1,061 yards, six TDs and four INTs. He also added 354 yards rushing and three TDs on 63 carries.
This off-season, Wentz was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts. Now, Hurts is the man in Philadelphia, and the rest of the off-season has been spent putting weapons around him as he looks to take the reigns for rookie head coach Nick Siriani. That includes making use of a pair of high picks at receiver.
Smith was taken at No. 11 overall by the Eagles in the 2021 NFL Draft. Like Hurts, he played at Alabama, giving quarterback and receiver a bit of familiarity. Smith is a first-round pick in nearly every format in rookie drafts, with most slotting him as the second or third best receiver in the 2021 class. His play on the field at Alabama is a big piece of that.
In four years with the Crimson Tide, Smith caught 235 passes for 3,965 yards and 46 TDs. Those are pretty incredible numbers, but it was his senior year that really cemented him as a top option in the draft. He caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 TDs in 13 games. That included a monster performance against Ohio State in the National Title Game, where he caught 12 passes for 215 yards and three TDs.
Some questioned Smith’s size and durability during the draft process, as he comes in at 6’0” and 170 pounds. But the Eagles felt good enough to take him early in the draft and expect him to be a big weapon in the team’s passing game.
The Second Year Pro
That brings us to Reagor. He, too, was a first-round pick by the Eagles, going No. 21 overall in 2020. Behind CeeDee Lamb, Reagor was in the next group of receivers in the class with Jerry Jeudy and Justin Jefferson. There was great optimism for the receiver, who came in at 5’11” and 197 pounds, because of his production at TCU. He played three seasons there, catching 148 passes for 2,248 yards and 22 TDs.
But Reagor didn’t quite take off in his rookie season. Injury limited him to 11 games in a season without a conventional off-season or pre-season. He saw 54 targets, catching 31 of those for 396 yards and a TD. That left him as WR89 for the season. But there’s reason for optimism as he did a lot of his damage with Hurts, who’ll be the man at quarterback in 2021.
In the last four games of the season, Reagor saw 20 targets, catching 11 passes for 140 yards. The Eagles have to hope that continues with Hurts at quarterback in 2021.
The Wild Card
The Eagles have a few other options in the receiving group—and that’s without considering tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz. While Ertz may be gone before the season kicks off, Goedert was a favorite target of Hurts, seeing 17 targets and 11 receptions in three games together. The team also returns J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and John Hightower, past draft picks, and Travis Fulgham, whose hot stretch in 2020 caught the attention of fantasy players. He finished the season with 38 receptions for 538 yards and four TDs.
But the most interesting of the remaining group of receivers is Greg Ward, who finished as WR58 in 2020. Ward saw 79 targets, catching 53 passes for 419 yards and six TDs. He also did well when Hurts was on the field. Starting when Hurts took over in Week 12 against Green Bay, Ward saw 21 targets, catching 12 for 125 yards and three TDs—half Hurts’ passing TD total. That makes him an interesting third option among receivers heading into 2021.
So, who are you picking? Smith is going early in rookie drafts and should. He has great talent and this is a good situation. If someone in your league is panicking after Reagor’s rookie season and the drafting of Smith, he could be a good value, too. Reagor is something of a forgotten man this off-season, currently sitting at an ADP of 60 in PPR and 75 in Standard. Smith, by contrast, is sitting at WR41 in PPR and WR50 in Standard currently. I expect both to have good seasons.
While Smith is my pick to have the better career and be the better long-term option, I think Reagor will take a step up in 2021, too. I expect Smith to lead receiver group in targets and receptions, but I expect Reagor to outplay his current ADP. That gives both some value. Smith, with a good season for Hurts, could even crack the Top 30. But Hurts is probably the Wild Card for the Eagles and both receivers. He looked decent in his starting sample in 2020, but it was a small sample and he’s in a new system in 2021.
If you’re looking for some possible 2021 upside, I like Ward. He is largely going unnoticed and undrafted, not even registering in the Top 300 for ADP. But he had a connection with Hurts in 2020 and could return some flex-worthy value in deeper leagues, especially early in the season. With Smith, Reagor, Goedert and running back Miles Sanders drawing more of the attention, Ward should get some favorable matchups when he’s on the field. I’m not buying his value long-term, but as an end of bench stash with upside for 2021, he fits the bill.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, part of the Campus 2 Canton Network.