Get out your calculators, and dust off your abacus, sports fans! It’s time for some math!
The NFL Draft is only several days away, and with such little time we will cut right to the chase: the Eagles should NOT trade up to select a wide receiver. Whether it is CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, or Jesus Christ himself, the smart choice for Philly is to stay put or trade back.

Sure, you can point at our deflated receiving corps or the miraculously lousy combination of age and inexperience Aaron Moorehead is dealing with and see every reason to wiggle up ahead of the Raiders for an elite prospect. Such a decision would be short-sighted and irresponsible, and here is why: First of all, let’s consider our current roster. Philadelphia is entering the 2020 Draft with Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson still recovering from injuries, Greg Ward, Jr. coming off the practice squad, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside still showing the explosiveness of a rookie stuck in wet cement at the line of scrimmage. You don’t need to see the numbers, you know things are bad.


Or do you?


The Eagles’ receivers, for all their woes, actually performed at near-league average or better in every statistic. The fabled plague of drops that cost the team crucial games increased the team’s total from 23 in 2018 to 29 in 2019. While a big leap, 29 drops actually ranks is only 12th worst, just two drops from the league-wide median (tbt to middle school math!). Furthermore, the team actually had the 14th best drop rate in the NFL. The team finished 5th in total receptions and 16th in total passing yards. They had the 8th most first downs through the air and were just 43 yards shy of the league median total yards after the catch. 

For all of the Eagles’ passing struggles, the numbers actually suggest they were an average-to-good receiving team.


Next, we need to consider the impact of an elite, top tier wide receiver.

What the Eagles lacked last year was a clear #1 option, and while the return of DeSean and the might of Alshon Jeffery were supposed to be our one-two knockout punch, injuries damned the offense from the outset.


Suggesting a purebred receiver would save the season, however, is an oversimplification.


Let’s look around the league and consider what teams are defined by elite receiving production. The top five receivers by total yards were as follows.

  1. Michael Thomas (NO – 1,725)
  2. Julio Jones (ATL – 1,394)
  3. Chris Godwin (TB – 1333)
  4. Travis Kelce (KC – 1,229)
  5. DeVante Parker (MIA – 1,202)
Saints' Michael Thomas threatens reporter in Twitter exchange
Photo: New York Post

If you aren’t happy with Kelce on the list, Keenan Allen  (LAC – 1,199) would be next up. 

Second, the top five receivers by total receptions.

  1. Michael Thomas (NO – 149)
  2. Christian McCaffrey (CAR – 116)
  3. Keenan Allen (LAC – 104)
  4. DeAndre Hopkins (HOU – 104)
  5. Julian Edelman (NE – 100)

And for the same folks unhappy with Kelce in the first list, Julio Jones (ATL – 99) swoops in at 6th.

Next, another top five, but by total touchdowns.

  1. Kenny Golladay (DET – 11)
  2. Mark Andrews (BAL – 10)
  3. Cooper Kupp (LA – 10)
  4. 5 players with 9 
  5. 7 players with 8

Almost done, but this time top five for yards per catch (min. 1,000 yards).

  1. Mike Williams (LAC – 20.4)
  2. AJ Brown (TEN – 20.2)
  3. Kenny Golladay (DET – 18.3)
  4. Stefon Diggs (MIN – 17.9)
  5. Mike Evans (TB – 17.3)
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin truly are the league's dynamic duo
Photo: Bucs Wire

Finally, the top ten teams for total receiving yards.

  1. Tampa Bay
  2. Atlanta
  3. Dallas
  4. Kansas City
  5. LA Rams
  6. LA Chargers
  7. New Orleans
  8. Detroit
  9. New England
  10. Carolina

Putting all of these lists in conjunction, we get a liberal estimate of which teams can boast elite receiving production, with fifteen. What we find, however, is that only three of the top ten teams by receiving yards made the playoffs, and less than half of those categorized as “elite receiving corps” by any one of the above metrics did not even make the postseason. Simply put, teams who flaunt the strongest wide receivers do not necessarily become contenders. There are a lot of ways to win a football game, and high-volume passing production is not a corollary of NFL success.


Perhaps you are thinking, “Sure, but what about the teams that won the Super Bowl?” After all, Kansas City is a passing town, and they just won it all a few months ago.

Let’s explore.


Extending this data back to the last 5 years, here are the top receivers on each team that appeared in a Super Bowl since 2015 (second-most in parentheses when relevant).

LIV

Early safety sets record, and tone, in Super Bowl ...
Photo: Post Independent

Chiefs: Travis Kelce – 1229 (Tyreek Hill – 860)

49ers: George Kittle – 1053 (Deebo Samuel – 802)

LIII

Patriots: Julian Edelman – 850 (James White – 751)Rams: Robert Woods – 1219 (Brandon Cooks – 1204)

LII

Eagles: Zach Ertz – 824Patriots: Rob Gronkowski – 1084 (Brandon Cooks – 1082)

LI

Patriots: Julian Edelman – 1106 (Martellus Bennett – 701)Falcons: Julio Jones – 1409

L

Broncos: Demaryius Thomas – 1304Panthers: Greg Olsen – 1104


What’s missing is clear: only half the teams’ leading receivers were wide receivers. Not only that, but the last Super Bowl featured teams (as evident by the parenthetically listed player) whose top wide receiver did not even come close to the top receiving option. Proving the point even further, the 2017-18 Patriots lost Gronkowski for half their games, before which he had been on track to top Edelman for the receiving yards throne in New England. Had Gronk stayed healthy, Edelman could have been dethroned (Side note: pretty crazy that Brandon Cooks was 17 total yards shy of being the leading receiver on two different Super Bowl teams in back to back years). Neither playoff berths nor Super Bowl appearances correlate with being an elite passing team, but still Howie is considering leveraging present and future picks to land a talented rookie. It does not add up.


What’s worse is that Philadelphia uses receivers at a rate decidedly below the league average. Comparing personnel grouping frequencies, the 2019 Eagles lined up in a 3 WR set only 37% of the time, 9% below the league average. Meanwhile, not a single team utilized a 2 WR 1-2 package more than Philadelphia (for fellow statistical laypersons, 1-2 means 1 RB, 2 TE, so a 1-2 2WR set would feature 1 RB, 2 TE, and 2WR). In fact, since drafting Dallas Goedert, the Eagles have set the league pace in 2 WR sets that feature tandem tight ends. Depth at the position is important, but Philly only utilizes two receivers at a time in most packages.This is not to say success only comes with two receivers on the field at a time. Kansas City was firmly in the league average for 3 WR sets at 47% frequency, though San Francisco halved that at 21%. It does, however, say this again: there are plenty of ways to win a football game.


For what it’s worth, the Eagles aren’t even good at drafting receivers.

Here is the last decade of receivers drafted by the Birds.

Dolphins Roster Breakdown: Marvin McNutt - The Phinsider
Marvin McNutt, in case you also forgot who he was. via The Phinsider

2010: Riley Cooper (5th)

2012: Marvin McNutt (6th)

2014: Jordan Matthews (2nd), Josh Huff (3rd)

2015: Nelson Agholor (1st)

2017: Mack Hollins (4th), Shelton Gibson (5th)

2019: JJ Arcega-Whiteside (2nd)


Plus, Lurie is on record having said he wants to stress “volume.” With an inexplicably bad sense of gauging receiver talent and a need to draft in bulk, the Eagles trading up makes no sense. What makes more sense would be sitting on the 21st overall for Justin Jefferson or trading back and landing any combination of Denzel Mims, Brandon Aiyuk, KJ Hamler, or another elite receiver in the late-first, early-second rounds. This option gives us the strong receiving option necessary to uplift the offense without sacrificing the picks necessary to address other gaps on the roster like…A linebacker!


Let’s examine the NFL’s elite linebacker units, shall we?

The AP NFL All-Pro voting produced the following list of best linebackers.

Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner has proven his worth — but will Seattle ...
The Seattle Times
  1. Bobby Wagner, Seattle, 32
  2. Demario Davis, New Orleans, 18
  3. Eric Kendricks, Minnesota, 18
  4. Luke Kuechly, Carolina, 17
  5. Darius Leonard, Indianapolis, 11
  6. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh, 11
  7. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay, 10
  8. Fred Warner, San Francisco, 6
  9. Blake Martinez, Green Bay, 4
  10. D’onta Hightower, New England, 4
  11. Jamie Collins, New England, 3
  12. Kyle Van Noy, New England, 3
  13. Chandler Jones, Arizona, 2
  14. Shaq Barrett, Tampa Bay, 2
  15. Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo, 2
  16. Anthony Barr, Minnesota, 1
  17. Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay, 1
  18. Von Miller, Denver, 1
  19. Matthew Judon, Baltimore, 1
  20. Jaylon Smith, Dallas, 1
  21. Joe Schobert, Cleveland, 1
  22. Khalil Mack, Chicago, 1

Of the 22, over half made the playoffs. More often than not, teams in the postseason featured an elite linebacker, something that cannot be said of the wide receiver position. 


Going further, here is a list of top five defenses by yards allowed per game.

  1. Patriots (275.9)
  2. 49ers (281.8)
  3. Bills (298.2)
  4. Ravens (300.6)
  5. Steelers (304.1)

Adding to this list, here are the top eight defenses by total points allowed.

  1. Patriots' defense back on track heading into Super Bowl | The ...
    The Spokesman-Review

    Patriots (225) 

  2. Bills (259)
  3. Ravens (282)
  4. Bears (298)
  5. T-Vikings (303)
  6. T-Steelers (303)
  7. Chiefs (308)
  8. 49ers (310)
  9. Packers (313)
  10. Broncos (316)

Much like the “elite receiving teams” list crafted earlier, these two lists, working in conjunction, represent the best defensive units. Returning to the All-Pro Linebackers, 15 of the 22 appear on the best defensive teams in the league last year, demonstrating how crucial the position is to stopping an opposing offense.


While only 3 of the top 10 teams for receiving yards made the playoffs, 8 of the top 12 teams defensively made playoffs, including 3 of the top 5 teams by linebacker positional strength. 


The case being made here is not to ignore the receiver position, but instead recognize the importance of investing at linebacker as well, something the team could not do as effectively should they trade up for the likes of CeeDee Lamb.Sure, the Eagles are going into 2020 with the cast of Bad Luck Bears, but something is better than nothing. Nathan Gerry remains the only linebacker on the roster with recent production, joined by Jatavis Brown who only started one game last season and is slated to appear more on Special Teams than anywhere else. Worse yet, Gerry only had 78 tackles (46th best in the league), topping Nigel Bradham’s 61 (tied for 69th in the league — nice) for a team-high. These two combined for just 139 tackles, 11 shy of Jordan Hicks’ 150 combined tackles. 

Nate Gerry has earned the trust of Eagles coaching staff
Photo: Eagles Wire — USAToday.com

The Eagles are not just missing linebacker production: they are missing positional personnel.

Lastly, the immediate impact of a player is always a concern. COVID-19 has inspired fear in coaches and managers alike who rightfully doubt rookies will have the time and team exposure to quickly adjust to the NFL. The importance of accumulating as many high-round picks who can expedite the learning process has never been greater, and trading a second or third (or both) to move up would hinder the immediate impact of this year’s rookie class. 


With all of this in mind, the Eagles would be doing themselves a disservice to trade up in the draft. Scouts have produced nearly every permutation of the top 4-6 receivers, illustrating just how minimal the difference would be between the first off the board and whoever we land at 21. 


The Eagles are not good at drafting receivers. They also face a greater hole in the roster at linebacker, a position more correlated with team success, than they do at receiver.
No matter who you have atop the draft board at either position, trading up would limit our capacity to address both needs and ultimately produce a worse team than remaining patient this year.

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