Eagles fans will remember Alshon Jeffrey playing through the 2017-18 season with a torn rotator cuff for as long as they’ll live. After all, he was the leading receiver for the team in yards and targets and even caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl 52 victory. Getting surgery after the season ended in February, however, means that Jeffrey could miss some time to start the 2018 campaign (although, I think any reasonable fan will admit that this is quite understandable). According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Jeffrey could stay on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list going into week 1. NFL rules state that any player who begins the season on the PUP list must miss the first six weeks of the season. All of that could be moot, however, as Rapoport further mentioned on twitter that “[The Eagles] could also carry him on the roster in the event he’s healthy sooner.” Coach Doug Pederson also offered some insight into the situation, telling reporters, “We’re monitoring his progress, it’s day-to-day, we’re happy where he’s at, and we’ll continue to do that.” He added further that he wasn’t sure where Rapoport’s report came from. Coach Pederson certainly doesn’t sound too worried about Alshon, and depending on Jeffrey’s recovery, the Eagles may not have him on the PUP going into week one, but the threat of Alshon missing at least some time remains.
According to reports, Jeffrey suffered a full tear last training camp and played through the entirety of the season with the injury without missing a game. The surgery was performed on February 21st, which means this month would mark 6 months since. Most information points toward the recovery time for this type of surgery being 4-6 months, but some factors could lengthen that process. It would only be speculation to question if Jeffrey suffered further damage by playing through the injury, or if some other factor could be the reason why Jeffrey’s recovery has the potential to extend past the typical 6-month prognosis. MedlinePlus states that some rotator cuff tears may not fully heal or could suffer poorer results from factors such as the rotator cuff being weak before the injury or larger tears (remember, Alshon was reported as having a full tear before playing 19 games last season). This led me to research if he had any other shoulder injuries in his career, but found only one in 2015 that cost him just one game, and it would appear very unlikely that this had any lingering effect. The most probable scenario is that Jeffrey simply suffered a large tear that could potentially extend the typical recovery period by some time. If the Eagles are to start off the 2018 season without their number one receiver, the players on the depth chart behind Jeffrey stepping up, as well as Doug Pederson’s creative play calling, will help the Eagles stay the course as defending champs.
Life Without Alshon
Alshon Jeffrey last season totaled 120 targets, 17 of which came in the red zone, and hauled in 57 of those for receptions. His presence on the outside was enough to gravitate defenders toward him and open up plays for others. Jeffrey was most effective in 2017 beating defenders down the sideline and running routes over the middle, particularly near the end zone. The Eagles added personnel in the draft and free agency that will make the offense especially dangerous with Alshon on the field, and can collectively emulate things he does if he were to miss any time.
Mike Wallace isn’t the player he used to be, but he can still use his breakaway speed to beat a defense over the top. In the first clip above, we see the corner get fooled by a run fake as well as a stutter step by Jeffrey, who outruns the defender as Wentz drops the ball in his arms to allow him to run cleanly into end zone. While Wallace may not have the ability to jump over a defender and catch the ball like Alshon does, his speed and threat of getting behind the secondary is something the opposing defense must be prepared for on any given snap – and something the Eagles quarterbacks will be able to take advantage of. Below are all of Wallace’s targets in 2017. You’ll notice Joe Flacco wasn’t shy about taking shots downfield to him, and that deep threat will be vital for the Birds passing game in a Jeffrey-less offense.
Shelton Gibson isn’t a lock to make the team and hasn’t shown much outside of his ability to simply run by people, but his speed is unquestionable. If Jeffrey were to miss some time in the regular season, a receiver like Gibson would make sense for occupying a spot on the 53-man roster. Having the speed of Wallace and Gibson down field, combined with the crafty route running of Nelson Agholor and the size of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert would allow Doug Pederson to get creative. We’ll have to keep an eye out for Gibson the rest of this preseason to see if he has any other tricks up his sleeve.
Zach Ertz & Dallas Goedert:
Outside of Jeffrey, Ertz was the most reliable of the Eagles’ receiving options last season. Ertz and Jeffrey were both near the top of the league in red zone targets, receptions, and touchdowns. Ertz will continue to be a force, and all reports indicate rookie Dallas Goedert has been a red zone machine in training camp as well. The attention Jeffrey warrants close to the goal line will be missed if he’s out for significant time, but if Goedert is as good as advertised it should allow the offense to keep churning out touchdowns within the 20-yard line. With those two, it will allow the Eagles to run more two tight end formations. With the speed of Wallace and Agholor, Ertz and Goedert should be able to find pockets of space in the middle of the field to keep the chains moving.
When it comes down to it, I’d be surprised if Jeffrey started the season off on the PUP list. Is it possible he could miss some action though? Sure, especially if the Eagles are cautious about him being 100% for the rest of the season whenever he does return. If that’s the case, there shouldn’t be too much of a reason to worry though. The Eagles still have a potential league MVP in Carson Wentz (and Super Bowl MVP in Nick Foles should he not be ready), a Super Bowl winning coach, and playmakers at almost every position. If Doug Pederson is happy about where Jeffrey is in his recovery, I see no reason why we should be too worried about it.