The Truth About The 2021 Receiving Class
The 2020 receiving class was considered the best in nearly over a decade, and it certainly lived up to that hype, featuring All-Pro Justin Jefferson along with many other young stars like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk, and Chase Claypool. Yet again here we are, with the 2021 NFL Draft just under two weeks away, this year’s group of wideouts has gotten a lot of hype, and some go as far as saying this year’s class is better than the 2020 class. The comparison of classes is definitely a controversial topic, but there is definitely an argument to be made for both classes. One thing that goes in favor of the 2021 class is that it features the last two Bilentnikoff Award winners, Ja'Marr Chase, and DeVonta Smith. However, there is one major difference between these two classes that not many acknowledge.
The glaring difference between the receiving classes is that the 2020 class featured mainly outside receivers that could play inside on some occasions, like Jerry Jeudy, Justin Jefferson, and Brandon Aiyuk. However, the 2021 class has a lot of receivers that are limited to the slot, which is by no means a bad thing, it just means that there will be less roster space for smaller slot receivers compared to outside receivers. Slot receivers are not as valuable as outside receivers because most smaller receivers are limited to the slot, whereas taller outside receivers can play both on the outside and the inside, making it harder to match up with because they can line up all over the field. This will affect some teams more than others, especially ones that drafted slot receivers recently.
The Eagles fall into this category after selecting Jalen Reagor with their first rounder in 2020, who is a 5'11" receiver that thrives with the ball in his hands in open field. According to Adam Caplan, Jalen Reagor is "expected" to play in the slot during 2021, which would capitalize on his ability to make plays in open space. Additionally, the Eagles new head coach Nick Sirianni made a living in Indianapolis at getting the ball into receivers’ hands with room to run, something Reagor thrived at during his career at TCU, and he showed some flashes of that in his rookie year with a 73 yard punt-return touchdown in week 13 against the Green Bay Packers. Reagor only took three other punt returns all season, but he totaled 21 yards on those three returns, which is some solid production. I will be taking an in-depth look at how Jalen Reagor fits into the Eagles plans moving forward after the draft, but Reagor definitely is an intriguing young piece for the Eagles on that side of the football.
Over the last nine NFL Drafts, only three receivers taken in the top ten had 1,000 yard seasons, with those three receivers being Mike Evans, Amari Cooper, and Mike Williams. Even more intriguing, there has not been a receiver taken in the top ten of the last three drafts. Will 2021 be the year this drought is broken? It is quite possible, as the consensus top three receivers, Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith all have been mocked in the top ten quite frequently. However, it is possible that one, or even two of these receivers falls out of the top ten. Going back to my previous point of the 2021 draft being stacked with slots, four of the top five receivers on my big board are outside receivers with the ability to play inside, and the one slot receiver is arguably the most explosive college receiver in over a decade, and Jaylen Waddle can play anywhere on the field due to his unprecedented skillset. However, the rest of the depth in the draft is filled with mainly smaller slot receivers.
How does this impact the Eagles? Well, if one of the top three receivers were to fall out of the top ten, which is extremely likely, the Eagles could swoop in and snag one of them to pair with the explosive Jalen Reagor. Many fans were puzzled when the Eagles traded down from six to 12, but if the Eagles were to acquire one of the top three wideouts they would be getting not only a top tier receiver, but an additional first round in 2022. It has also been rumored that the Eagles could trade back into the top ten, and they would still keep their first rounder they acquired from Miami. However, it has been reported that Nick Sirianni is content with drafting a receiver in day two of the draft and focusing on other positions of interest early.
This would be an intriguing alternative to what many expected the Eagles to do just around a month ago. If the Eagles were to draft a receiver in day two, it would likely be a slot receiver to compete with Jalen Reagor, and there are two main reasons for that. The first reason is that since this class is limited on outside receivers later in the draft, some outside receivers like Dyami Brown and Nico Collins could go higher than expected, leaving a lot of slot receivers who would be high end draft picks in any other draft, to fall down the board. The second reason Howie Roseman likely takes a slot receiver on day two of the draft, is to compete with Jalen Reagor. Since Sirianni has been in Philadelphia, he has been preaching that competition for roles makes players better. What better way to get the best out of Reagor than to draft a player for him to compete against for his job? It would show the Eagles if Reagor is their slot of the future, or if they should look elsewhere. Two weeks from now everyone will be sitting on their couches thinking about how a player their team drafted fits into their system, but they will forget that football, like any other job, requires competition. In the 2020 draft, the Packers drafted a quarterback to replace Aaron Rodgers, and Rodgers turned around to win the MVP. On the other hand, the Eagles drafted a quarterback to compete with Carson Wentz, and he seemingly forgot how to play football. It is crazy what competition can do for one.