Commentary

32 Questions: Eagles' receivers play second fiddle

Updated: August 19, 2008, 1:42 PM ET
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com

Can any Eagles earn No. 2 fantasy WR status?

Fantasy owners blame the coach, quarterback and the angle that the sun hits beautiful Lincoln Financial Field, but the fact is, Eagles wide receivers not named Terrell Owens have failed to live up to fantasy expectations for one reason: Brian Westbrook is just too good.

Yes, the fine Philly running back, who was nearly as valuable as some guy named LaDainian Tomlinson a season ago, is so proficient both running and catching the ball that it affects the entire Eagles offense. This is a good thing, of course, because Westbrook is arguably even more productive than Tomlinson, so valuable that the Eagles had no choice to extend Westbrook's contract into his 30s and shower him with riches. Nobody combined the rushing and receiving yardage the way he did, and I maintain the No. 2 pick in the fantasy land is Westbrook, not Adrian Peterson. One can argue Westbrook is the most indispensable player in the game.

Because Westbrook caught 90 passes in 2007 and totaled 138 receptions the two seasons prior, it helps create the impression the Eagles don't have a good No. 2 wide receiver. In a way, Kevin Curtis is Philly's No. 2 wide receiver. He lines up as the No. 1 guy, but Westbrook is the first option. What does that make Reggie Brown? Well, it makes him largely irrelevant, and therein lies the mistake many fantasy owners make.

Kevin Curtis
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesKevin Curtis quietly emerged last season as the Eagles' best wideout option since Terrell Owens.
Officially, Curtis is the top wide receiver for the Eagles, and he did nice work usurping the title from underachiever Brown in 2007. Curtis did things Brown couldn't, or wouldn't, and became the top pure wide receiver option for Donovan McNabb, hauling in 77 passes for 1,110 yards. For Curtis, it was all about playing time. However, the way Brown played, left McNabb and coach Andy Reid little choice but to target Curtis more downfield. Brown saw his yards per catch average slip nearly five yards from 2006, and his receiving touchdowns were cut in half, from eight to four. Dropped passes are a problem, and there's really little reason to expect he'll be targeted more this fall.

Eagles fans are constantly pining for more wide receiver help, pre-Owens, and certainly since the enigmatic wide receiver was seen doing sit-ups in his South Jersey driveway on his way out of town to division rival Dallas. It's overstated to say the Eagles can't win without a Pro Bowl wide receiver. They've done just fine this decade when McNabb has been on the field, and even when he hasn't, because of Westbrook. Curtis isn't the same type of threat Owens is, but he did quite well in his first campaign with the Eagles. In 2006, Brown and Donte' Stallworth did a decent job, though McNabb was knocked out of action midway through the season, and Philly ran more with Jeff Garcia at the helm.

The Eagles throw more than just about any other team in the NFL, so some might wonder how a second wide receiver can't become a key part of the offense. First of all, Brown wasn't bad in 2007. His season was strong enough to warrant No. 3 fantasy wide receiver status, with 61 catches for 780 yards. A look through team stats this decade indicates that it was the top season for a second Eagles wide receiver in the Reid-McNabb era. The last time a Philadelphia wide receiver not named Owens even topped 50 catches was 2002, when future Hall of Famers Todd Pinkston and James Thrash did it. Not only is it time for people to stop expecting a second Philly wide receiver to emerge, since it's such an unlikely event to start with, but we should look at what Curtis accomplished in 2007 as a terrific season totally out of line with this franchise for what, the past six seasons? What a year!

In deference to this question, the players to watch are Brown and Cal rookie DeSean Jackson, but as long as Westbrook and Curtis remain as productive as 2007, it probably will not matter. Brown's hold on a starting job appears tenuous, if not due to being invisible on the field too often, then because he hasn't been on the field enough this preseason. Brown has dealt with a strained Achilles' tendon, and then left the second preseason game with a sore hamstring, opening up playing time for second-round pick Jackson. While Jackson played quite well, and could become interesting in deeper leagues, the fact is, Curtis isn't going anywhere, and as long as Westbrook touches the ball more than half the time the Eagles are on offense, it doesn't bode well for reserve running backs or even the second starting wide receiver.

It's not due to Reid or McNabb, but the Eagles are a solid offensive team thanks to Westbrook's ability. There's just no room on this offense for another weapon, and based on past seasons, it sure looks like what Curtis did was shocking enough. To ask for a second Philly wide receiver to put up numbers like a No. 2 fantasy WR, as long as Westbrook commands so many touches, is just not realistic. Curtis himself fits that role.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can e-mail him here.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer