The Eagles' wide receivers are an eye-catching bunch.

At the top of the list is DeSean Jackson, who matches gasp-inducing speed with flashy end-zone dances. Jeremy Maclin is a top-20 draft pick who put up strong rookie numbers and carries an air of confidence.

Behind them is Hank Baskett, husband of reality TV star and Playboy centerfold Kendra Wilkinson. Even the Eagles rookies have grabbed attention: Riley Cooper with his rock-star hair and big body and Chad Hall, who zips around the field like a 5-foot-8 lightning bolt.

And then there is Jason Avant, who, according to his team biography, enjoys Scrabble and playing gospel songs on his piano. Who speaks in a soft voice and often can be found at his locker with an open Bible. And who has had a steadily increasing role in the Eagles' offense in each of his four NFL seasons.

Avant has become a third-down target for the Eagles, often operating out of the slot and showing a willingness to take hits and give them out in blocking assignments. Avant is also the man the Eagles would likely turn to should either of their top receivers get hurt.

That was demonstrated this week when Jackson skipped voluntary team practices and Maclin sat out one day with a tight hamstring. Avant stepped into the first-team drills.

"He's got great determination, always well prepared, very smart, studies hard. Goes about his business in a professional manner, hard worker on and off the field," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's always consistent and he's always there both in practice and in the games."

Avant, who played in a star's shadow in college, lining up in the same offense as Braylon Edwards for three of his four years at Michigan, steadily has increased his reception and yardage totals each season in the league, topping out last year with 41 catches for 587 yards and three touchdowns.

The Eagles rewarded Avant for his 2009 showing with a five-year contract worth up to $18 million.

Along the way, he became the kind of player whose name regularly pops up on lists of the NFL's most overlooked players. One columnist recently named Avant the Eagles' most underrated player, and USA Today named him to its 2009 "All-Joe" team of unheralded contributors.

Avant attributed his improvement to getting more chances.

"It's more about your opportunity in this league, and once [coaches] see you can do it, they'll give it to you more," Avant said. "I had more opportunities last year."

He will have tough competition for passes in the Eagles' 2010 offense, though, with Jackson and Maclin still rising, tight end Brent Celek also improving and the rangy Baskett and Cooper providing threats near the end zone.

Avant said he wasn't worried about his numbers.

"Some games I may catch seven, I still got a smile on my face," Avant said. "Some games I may catch none. I'm still happy."

Mornhinweg said Avant helps with his blocking even if he doesn't rack up gaudy totals.

That's hardly the typical praise for modern NFL receivers as embodied by Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Avant said he would prefer to follow those like Tim Brown, Torry Holt and Marvin Harrison, who played at elite levels with little hype.

"I think those guys deserve [credit] way more than some guys that are out in front of the media making a fool of themselves," Avant said.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214