Where does Travis Fulgham fit in as Eagles wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery inch closer to return?
Once both veteran receivers are fully healthy and returned, implementing them back into the offense without interfering with Fulgham’s playing time will be a challenge for the Eagles' coaching staff.
Only time will tell whether Travis Fulgham’s breakout performance against the Steelers was an outlier or an indication of things to come.
While most objective observers are still on the fence, Carson Wentz has already made up his mind about the Eagles' wide receiver after he followed up his pivotal touchdown against the 49ers with a 10-catch afternoon against Pittsburgh on Sunday.
“I think he showed last week that there was no fluke,” Wentz said. “He’s a big-time player, and we’ve seen what he’s done in practice now for a while and how he’s kind of come along within our offense and in our system."
In the two games since the Eagles promoted Fulgham from the practice squad to the active roster on Oct. 4, he’s quickly become Wentz’s favorite receiver. With Zach Ertz struggling to make an impact, the former Old Dominion wideout has been targeted a team-high 15 times and has caught 12 of those targets for 209 yards and two touchdowns, earning the “big-time player” label the Eagles' quarterback has placed on him.
Fulgham had 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown against a solid Steelers defense on Sunday, presumably cementing his role in the team’s offense moving forward. But it’s important to remember the 25-year-old was given his opportunity to play because of injuries to DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Jalen Reagor. Jackson has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, while Jeffery hasn’t played since last season after suffering a Lisfranc foot injury.
“With the injuries going around, he was the next guy up," Wentz said. "[We] looked out there and said, ‘Hey, we’re confident this guy can get it done,’ and he’s been making play after play, and I think he’s got a bright future.”
Once both veteran receivers are fully healthy and returned, implementing them back into the offense without interfering with Fulgham’s playing time will be a challenge for the Eagles' coaching staff. Jackson has been impactful when he’s played for the Birds in the last two seasons, forcing opposing defenses to deploy safety help over the top and forcing defensive backs to play off the line against him, which creates space for everyone else. Still, the 33-year-old has missed 16 games in the last two seasons and was on a play count at the start of this year as the team tries to keep him healthy.
Jeffery, 30, was in the midst of his worst season since his rookie year in 2019 before going down with his foot injury in Week 14 of last year. He had career lows in yards per reception and the fewest catches per game since he’d joined the Eagles.
Jeffery appeared to struggle separating at times last season, so whether he still has the speed necessary to get open after the foot surgery remains to be seen.
During his Wednesday news conference, Eagles coach Doug Pederson conceded as much, saying the decision to put a productive player like Fulgham on the bench for Jeffery or Jackson would be “difficult." But he alluded to uncertainty about whether Jackson or Jeffery would even be available for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Financial Field.
“We have to make sure that the player in question is healthy,” Pederson said. “That’s why we practice during the week and we let them practice today and we see how they feel tomorrow on a Thursday. Then we see how they feel on Friday. Then we can make a decision for gameday. At the same time, it is hard to say, ‘Hey Travis, we’re going to push you to the side because here comes a couple of guys’ ”
Translation: Fulgham isn’t going anywhere even when Jeffery and Jackson are back healthy. It’s still unclear just how many receivers the Eagles are willing to keep on the active roster, but Reagor’s eventual return could force the team to let someone go.
The Eagles currently have seven wideouts on the active roster, but if Reagor returns from injured reserve as expected, they’d have eight. Even with the coronavirus-altered league rules expanding rosters, eight would be a stretch.
“We’ve got to get all of our guys integrated back into practice this week,” Pederson said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to select the four or five guys that we feel give us the best opportunity on game day. Some of it could be based purely on matchup. Obviously, Travis has made a case to continue to play and play at a high level.”