Two weeks ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a handful of football fans who knew who Travis Fulgham was. The 2nd year wide receiver from Old Dominion was with his 3rd team in 2 seasons and didn’t even make the Philadelphia Eagles initial 53-man roster to begin the season. But due to injuries, he was called up from the team’s practice squad before the Week 4 game against the San Francisco 49ers. Now, after scoring the go-ahead 42-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz in that game and then following it up with an impressive 10-catch 152-yard and 1 touchdown performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, “Fulghamania” is running wild in Eagles nation.
— A2D Radio (@a2dradio_com) October 15, 2020
The emergence of Fulgham has given some sort of hope to a season that was quickly spiraling downward for the Eagles. Injuries have once again hit the team hard and they continue to do so. Carson Wentz was in an uncharacteristic funk for the first 3 weeks but has steadily started to perform like his old self for the past 2. With all of this has been happening the team has been forced to lean on several of their younger players to step in and log some meaningful playing time. However, despite the growing pains so far, having to rely on guys like Fulgham, Greg Ward, John Hightower, and now Quez Watkins isn’t a bad thing. I’d argue it’s what’s best for the team long-term.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article titled “Eagles’ Focus Should Shift More Towards Their Long-Term Outlook”. In it I mentioned how the team needs to prioritize 2 things this season: 1) Getting Carson Wentz right, and 2) Playing their young talent. Both of those still hold now; maybe even more so.
Fulgham becoming a reliable receiver for Wentz has in turn helped the franchise QB play better and start to get out of his early-season rut. Despite having only a couple of weeks’ worth of practice time together, Wentz has already shown that he trusts him. Fulgham is a big-bodied receiver who shows a knack for high-pointing the ball and making contested catches in traffic, much like Alshon Jeffery in his prime. There were numerous plays against the Steelers where, despite being covered tightly by a cornerback, Wentz threw it up to Fulgham anyways because he trusted him to come down with it; and he did.
That is exactly why the Eagles need to keep playing Fulgham, Ward, Hightower, Watkins, and especially Jalen Reagor when he returns from injury. The return of DeSean Jackson and/or Alshon Jeffery to the lineup shouldn’t come at the expense of the others. Neither of them is expected to be back with the team after this season, therefore the team needs to start investing time into any of the young weapons they have for the future. By continuing to give the young receivers significant playing time, Wentz can grow and develop chemistry with them now, which will help prepare them beyond this season.
There will continue to be rough patches and growing pains along the way. That comes with the territory whenever you have to rely on young players. Rookies will make rookies mistakes. But getting those things ironed out now is better than trying to iron them out later.
Will leaning on the young guys instead of Jackson and Jeffery hurt the Eagles’ chances at winning more games this season? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But if we’re all being honest, even at full strength the Eagles aren’t a good enough team to contend for a Super Bowl this season. If they want to be contenders beyond this year, then the appropriate steps need to be made to invest in the team’s future. That’s not to say that they should tank the 2020 season, because they shouldn’t. The team still needs to do their best to win every game they can. They just have to do so with the right players in place; the players that actually could play a role in the team’s future.
All this being said, I understand that Jackson and Jeffery aren’t just going to magically be off the roster. They’re certainly not going to be released, and it’ll be difficult to find a team willing to trade for either one of them. And if they’re in the lineup they’re not going to just ride the bench as backups who never see the field. So, if that’s the case then it’s understandable to expect them to get a reasonable amount of snaps each game, and that’s fine. When Jackson is on the field, he’s still a dangerous deep threat, and when Jeffery is on the field, he’s still a solid possession receiver. Additionally, the young receivers will be able to learn from veterans like Jackson and Jeffery. But the important thing is that Reagor, Fulgham, Ward, Hightower, and Watkins don’t stop getting opportunities.
The 2020 NFL season has been tough so far for the Eagles and their fans. But I’m sure most would agree with me when I say we’ll gladly take a down year if that means building toward a successful future. Media and fans alike have criticized the organization for not drafting well and not developing young talent well. The team is presented with an opportunity here to change that, so they must allow their young talent to show what they can do.