Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Can Even Nick Foles Win With Jags’ Receivers?

By Anthony Brancato

After pulling off a major miracle in 2017 — coming off the bench after Carson Wentz suffered one of his usual injuries — to lead the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl championship, and thereby creating an aura not felt in Philadelphia since the Phillies finally won their first World Series title in 1980.

This was followed by a minor miracle in 2018, when he encored by guiding the team to victories in their last three games after another Wentz injury, resulting in a playoff berth and then an Elite Eight appearance when former Eagle Cody Parkey's last-second field goal was first tipped by Philadelphia defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, then hit the left upright and the crossbar after that before falling forward no good (costing Parkey his job), Nick Foles has moved on — to Jacksonville, where questions abound at the wide receiver position.

What sort of questions?

A year ago, the Jaguars averaged 10.4 yards per completion, which ranked 29th in the league — and their "big splash" at wide receiver in free agency consisted of the signing of Chris Conley, whose best season out of his four with the Chiefs was 44 catches for 530 yards in 2016. Sure, Conley has great size at 6'3", and great speed at 4.35, the time he reeled off at the combine in 2015. But NFL lore is filled with big, fast receivers on paper who never quite panned out on the field — witness Michael Jackson, who did very little moonwalking in his eight seasons with Cleveland 1.0 and Baltimore, and Alex Bannister, who didn't pan out at all, catching 9 passes for 121 yards in his entire five-year career at Seattle, although he did make both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro as a special teamer in 2003.

So forgive anyone who asks that if Chris Conley is the answer, what's the question? And no answers at all will come through the draft: not one of the seven picks that Jacksonville made in the 2019 draft was a wide receiver (they did add two tight ends, one through the draft and one via free agency — but the free-agent signing, ex-Cowboy Geoff Swaim, is strictly a blocker, while third-round draftee Josh Oliver is more of a receiving threat, but is viewed by most draft analysts as a white-chipper at best).

Still, Foles gives the Jags enough of an upgrade at the quarterback position to potentially turn the AFC South into something on the order of a four-way free-for-all this year — particularly since Leonard Fournette was not shown the door as many if not most expected after Doug Marrone was not fired in the wake of the team's 5-11 finish last season, during which Fournette, how shall we say, acted out on numerous occasions, most notably when he got ejected from one game and suspended for the next game for leaving the sidelines in a game at Buffalo to start a fight with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson (picking a fight with a defensive end? What was he thinking? And Fournette missed seven other starts, most of them due to recurring hamstring problems) — and make the division the NFL's toughest.

But will Foles be able to make it three playoff runs in a row?

That is — no pun intended? — the question.

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