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Here's how passing on Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf in NFL draft continues to haunt Eagles

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

It's not just that the Eagles missed on drafting wide receiver D.K. Metcalf when they selected wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the second round of the 2019 draft.

It's the reverberations that followed, something the Eagles are still dealing with through their 3-6-1 start to this season.

Metcalf is the personification of that mistake. The Eagles will see that for the third time in two seasons when they face Metcalf and the Seattle Seahawks (7-3) on Monday night.

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The Eagles, desperate for wide receiver help, used three draft choices in the 2020 draft rather than addressing other positions of need at linebacker, depth on the offensive line and in the secondary.

The Eagles selected Jalen Reagor 21st overall in the draft last spring, followed by John Hightower in the fifth round and Quez Watkins in the sixth. All have had their ups and downs this season while Metcalf continues to thrive in a Seahawks offense that is ranked fourth in the NFL in total offense (400 yards per game), and second in points per game at (31.8).

Seattle's DK Metcalf (14) makes a jumping catch over Philadelphia's Marcus Epps (37).

The Eagles have yet to eclipse 30 points in any game this season.

"I think it’s just continuing to build this thing together and be on the same page, and all of those things," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Every week (the receivers) keep getting better. They keep taking steps in the right direction, and they’re going to help us in the short term and the long term."

Arcega-Whiteside likely won't help at all.

He was picked 57th overall, the sixth receiver taken in the 2019 draft. Arcega-Whiteside has just 12 receptions for 214 yards in 24 games. Arcega-Whiteside was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career against the Giants on Nov. 15. He didn't play against Cleveland last Sunday because he's on the COVID-19 list.

Metcalf was taken seven picks after Arcega-Whiteside. Metcalf has followed up a strong rookie season with 48 receptions for 862 yards and 9 TDs through 10 games this season. He's sixth in the NFL in receiving yards. His averages of 18.0 yards per catch ranks third.

Metcalf had 7 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks' 17-9 playoff win over the Eagles last January. Arcega-Whiteside had 10 catches for 169 yards for his entire rookie season.

"Well, he's so big," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said about the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Metcalf, who ran a 4.33 at the NFL scouting combine in 2019.

"It's a great challenge for us," Schwartz added. "It's not just getting him covered; it's tackling him. You have to defend every inch of the field with a guy like that ... He's strong and fast, and he’s like a linebacker, so you have to get him tackled. He also has the speed to be able to go deep."

Production over talent?

Sure, every team technically passed on Metcalf, who was expected to go in the first round. Some teams, perhaps even the Eagles, were scared off by his injury history in college at Mississippi.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman had said back then, the Eagles preferred players who had production in college.

Arcega-Whiteside certainly was productive at Stanford. It hasn't translated to the NFL. 

"We’ve got to look at that stuff and we have got to learn from it," Roseman said before the draft last spring.

It's safe to say that the Eagles and Wentz wouldn't be having the same struggles they're having offensively if they had selected Metcalf. As it is, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is thriving with both Metcalf and veteran receiver Tyler Lockett.

Wilson is among the NFL leaders in several offensive categories, and he leads the NFL with 30 touchdown passes. Both Metcalf and Lockett are among the league's leading receivers.

"It’s so obvious that (Metcalf) is talented," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "You want to go to him and give him opportunities because he can do everything. Russ gets it, and we get it, so we’re trying to fit him in and watch him grow."

Carroll said it's a process that can take a year or more. And that's under ideal circumstances, such as spring practices, a full training camp with the four preseason games.

The Eagles' rookie wide receivers, led by Reagor, didn't have that this year. COVID-19 forced the cancellation of spring practices, led to the delayed start of training camp and the cancellation of the preseason games.

In addition, Reagor missed two weeks before the season started with a shoulder injury, then five weeks during the season to have thumb surgery. Through five games, Reagor has 16 catches for 211 yards.

Eagles' J.J Arcega-Whiteside (19) makes a reception against the Patriots in 2019.

"These last couple of weeks are just his first couple real games of playing and playing consistently," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said about Reagor. "I'm excited for his future with the offense, with Carson. He's a dynamic guy. He's electric. He's got great speed. And we've just got to keep him coming and keep him focused."

There isn't any such talk about Arcega-Whiteside.

Of the 22 wide receivers taken after Arcega-Whiteside in the 2019 draft, 13 have more receptions than Arcega-Whiteside. That includes Travis Fulgham, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions, before signing with the Eagles in August.

But the biggest misses came within 20 picks of Arcega-Whiteside.

There's Metcalf, who has 106 career catches for 1,762 yards, picked at No. 64; Pittsburgh's Diontae Johnson, who has 108 catches for 1,217 yards, picked at No. 66; and Washington's Terry McLaurin, who has 127 catches for 1,882 yards, taken in the third round at No. 76.

Perhaps some of that would've been mitigated had the Eagles traded for or signed one of the top receivers.

Of the 10 leading receivers in the NFL in terms of yards, the Eagles had a chance to either draft, trade for or sign six of them since 2019.

DeAndre Hopkins, whom the Texans traded to Arizona, who's leading the NFL in receiving yards with 912. He's followed closely by Stefon Diggs, whom the Vikings traded to the Bills, with 906 yards.

McLaurin is fourth with 871 yards, followed by Metcalf.

Minnesota's Justin Jefferson, who was available at No. 21 when the Eagles selected Reagor, is seventh with 848 yards. There's also Carolina's Robby Anderson, who was a free agent last spring. He's in 10th place with 818 yards receiving.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was asked last spring about not trading for Hopkins. The Cardinals gave up running back David Johnson, a second-round pick in 2020 and a fourth rounder in 2021.

Roseman implied that the Texans were asking for more than that from the Eagles. So he pivoted and traded for cornerback Darius Slay, giving up two draft picks – a third and a fifth – and then re-signing Slay to a three-year contract worth as much as $50 million.

The idea was to add receivers in the draft, then allow them to develop alongside veterans DeSean Jacskon and Marquise Goodwin, whom the Eagles traded for during draft weekend.

But Goodwin opted out of the season and Jackson played in only four games before suffering an ankle injury that could end his season. In addition, Alshon Jeffery missed the first eight games while rehabbing from foot surgery last December. He has yet to have a reception in the two games he has played in.

That has left the Eagles with a receiving core consisting of two rookies and Fulgham, who has become the Eagles' leading receiver with 29 catches for 435 yards in his first five games.

Teams are adjusting, and Fulgham has just 2 catches – on 12 targets – for 16 yards in his last two games.

Metcalf, meanwhile, continues to get better.

"He has really continued to develop," Carroll said. "The (rookie season) was just that. He had a great offseason with Russell. They spent a lot of time together working out and studying together and preparing ... You can just see the chemistry building."

The Eagles are still waiting.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.