Divisional Round Evaluations: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Leading up to the Eagles matchup with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will compare the personnel of the two teams each day until gameday is here.

In this edition of our week-long comparison, we will look at the wide receivers and tight ends that the Saints and Eagles will field on Sunday.


New Orleans WR/TEs | Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Tre’Quan Smith, Brandon Marshall, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill

A 2016 All-Rookie and 2018 Top 100 selection, Michael Thomas led the league in receptions with 125 and was selected to the PFF and AP All-Pro Teams as well as his second Pro Bowl. He ended the season with a total of 1,405 receiving yards nine touchdowns. He is undoubtably a top five wide receiver in the league this year. The task the Eagles secondary will be charged with is stopping Thomas as the Saints lack any other huge receiving threats. In his last meeting with the Birds, he made only four catches but turned them into 92 yards and a touchdown.

Ginn played in only five games as he spent most of the season on IR. A capable veteran, the threat has only 17 receptions for 209 yards on the season. He had a nice game in his week 16 return, but that is the only game he has played since week four. That could play in the Birds’ favor.

Tre’Quan Smith is the Saints only other consistently used receiver. A rookie out of UCF, Smith put up a nice average of 15.3 yards per catch by making 28 receptions for 427 yards and five touchdowns. That said, he has the third most targets of any active receiver or tight end on the Saints roster at 44. That’s less than three targets per game.

Behind those two the Saints have… *checks depth chart* ah, yes, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr and Brandon Marshall. Marshall was signed a few weeks ago, but has yet to play for the Saints. He registered just 11 receptions for 136 yards with the Seahawks early in the season. Meanwhile, Kirkwood and Carr combined have 22 receptions for 306 yards and four touchdowns on a combined 35 targets. They get a few targets when rotated in, but that is rare. The production the three of these players have has for the Saints is essentially on par with what Jordan Matthews has done for the Eagles.

Top tight end Benjamin Watson is actually the second most targeted option that isn’t named Alvin Kamara. His target total is only two higher that Smith’s however. While he has those additional targets, he played in the meaningless week 17 game, which makes his targets per game actually come out to be even smaller than that of Tre’Quan Smith (2.875 targets per game). Watson has 400 yards and two touchdowns on the season.

Behind Watson is Josh Hill who has made 16 receptions for 185 yards and one touchdown.


Philadelphia WR/TEs | Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Golden Tate, Mike Wallace, Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert

The Eagles top receiver is the aforementioned Alshon Jeffery who missed a few games this season due to injury and has not gotten a whole lot of targets this season. Despite what seems like a disappointing season for Jeffery, the receiver managed 65 receptions for 843 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season. Not bad for a player who missed the first three games of the season and had no training camp to get ready. He was feeling it in his return to the city that drafted him and registered 82 yards on six receptions in Chicago.

He is backed up by Nelson Agholor. The former first-round pick is not having as great a season as he had in 2018, but despite being the only real threat at the position for a few weeks at the beginning of the season, the fourth-year man has managed a similarly productive season with 64 receptions for 736 yards. He had arguably the least memorable wild card performance of the six pass catchers covered here with three receptions for 32 yards.

The receiver group is rounded by Golden Tate, Jordan Matthews and Mick Wallace. Wallace has yet to register a catch with the team since he landed on IR at the beginning of week two, but there is a chance he plays this weekend and provides a deep threat to stretch the field.

Matthews was brought in to alleviate Agholor early in the season. Despite very minor playing time, Matthews managed 20 catches for 300 yards during the regular season and seems to make big plays to move the chains every time he gets the ball. In Chicago, he didn’t even need to get the ball to make the play as he forced Prince Amukamara into committing pass interference to set the Eagles up at the 10-yard line and set up what would be the first touchdown of the game.

Tate is a mystery. Despite being one of the best players at earning yards after the catch over the past several seasons, Tate has underwhelmed in Philadelphia. The Eagles traded a third-round pick for him, but he has received limited playing time. In that limited regular season time, he has managed 30 catches for a minor 278 yards. He has also had quite a few drops and has fumbled the ball twice since joining the team. He proved he was worth the pick that the Eagles moved for him in the wild card as he made five receptions for 46 yards, including both a massive 28-yard grab where he knowingly took a massive hit and the touchdown reception that put the Birds ahead for good.

The Eagles tight end group boasts the NFL single season record holder for catches in a season by a tight end and a second-round draft selection. Ertz, the former, is a Pro Bowl selection who had an astounding 116 catches for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season. He is arguably the best receiving tight end in the game and registered five catches for 52 yards against the Bears. Goedert managed 334 yards and four touchdowns on 33 receptions over the course of the season. He added only two catches in the wild card game, but both were big-time plays, one being the first touchdown of the game and the other being a pass where he spun off a tackle and gained nine yards after contact to move the chains on what turned out to be the go ahead drive. It cannot go unmentioned that both have significantly improved in their blocking abilities. In the wild card round, Ertz was even successful at blocking Khalil Mack one-on-one a few times.


Edge

If the Eagles front seven can handle the running backs, the only sure receiving threat the Saints have is Michael Thomas. Remove him from the equation, and the Saints have to rely on a rookie who typically gets under three looks a game and a 33-year-old who is coming off a major knee injury. Beyond that, the Saints defense has a tight end who is an average receiver, the equivalent of the practice squad receivers the Eagles ran with to begin this season and the equivalent of Mike Wallace in a veteran that has done nothing to help the team.

Meanwhile, the Eagles have two extremely dangerous tight ends, two dangerous receivers, and depths consisting of Golden Tate, Jordan Matthews and perhaps even Mike Wallace. The decision essentially comes down to one elite player versus two elite players and top-quality depth. The Eagles take their first advantage in a landslide.

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