Short on playmakers, the Philadelphia Eagles stumbled upon their next big playmaker in wide receiver Travis Fulgham.
The Philadelphia Eagles are struggling with injuries once again in 2020. Entering the 2019 season, the offense looked to have one of the best wide receiver groups on paper. That was limited due to injuries as the team struggled even to roster three healthy receivers at times.
In 2020, it looks to be a lot of the same. Alshon Jeffery has yet to play a down this season as he recovers from a Lisfranc injury suffered back in December. DeSean Jackson missed several games with a hamstring injury before returning Week 7 against the New York Giants. He could miss the rest of the 2020 season after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right ankle late in the game against the Giants.
First-round pick Jalen Reagor has been on Injured Reserve after undergoing thumb surgery after Week 2, and tight end Zach Ertz looks to be out for a few more weeks with a high ankle injury. Receiving options have been hard to hold onto for the Eagles once again in 2020.
Due to all of the injuries, one player has stood out with his opportunity. Travis Fulgham, a sixth-round pick by the Detroit Lions in 2019, has become the new big target for Carson Wentz. From bouncing around practice squads to the go-to guy in Philadelphia, Fulgham looks to be the next big thing.
It's proven to be hard to gain the trust of Wentz, especially for wide receivers. Last season, Wentz became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards while not having a single wide receiver put up 500 yards. Some of that is due to the injuries, but Wentz is too content targeting his tight ends.
Fulgham has been a prime target for Wentz over the last three games. He's been targeted ten or more times all three weeks and has 300 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns during that span.
What about Travis Fulgham's game has led to this breakout so far in 2020?
At 6 foot 2, and 215 pounds, Fulgham is not the fastest player on the field. He doesn't win at the receiver position by pure foot speed. His success comes from physicality, size, and intelligence.
Let's start with his ability to beat press-man coverage. The first thing a wide receiver has to do is get off the line of scrimmage. New York Giants cornerback James Bradberry is lined up over the top of him with an outside shade. Just looking at his posture pre-snap, it's clear that he is looking to be physical right away.
Fulgham comes to the line with a plan to get out of his release and into his stem. Taking a hard step to the outside and releasing towards the middle of the field, he gets Bradberry right over the top of him, where he can throw him across his face and stack him working vertically. Once he stacks his opponent, he breaks inside across the middle of the field.
The pre-snap plan of how he is going to attack his opponent allowed him to not get stuck against an aggressive cornerback at the line. The strength to throw Bradberry past him to the inside allowed him to stack him and create leverage at the top of his route. That intelligence to create leverage shows up all over his film.
While mostly a boundary receiver, Fulgham is more than capable of shifting into the slot. Lined up as the number 3 receiver in this play against off-man coverage, the first thing he must do is eliminate the cushion between him and his opponent. The defensive back slowly moves inside to maintain leverage over the middle of the field and limit the breaking points.
As Fulgham approaches the cornerback, he uses a foot fire technique followed by a fake to the inside, keeping the defender on his heels. As he breaks vertical again to work over the top, the cornerback is not chasing. Once he works over him to break over the middle of the field, the second-year receiver will turn his head back to the quarterback to further sell the post route.
With the cornerback working underneath him, Fulgham breaks back outside, giving him plenty of separation. Unfortunately, Carson Wentz was under pressure, and the pass ended up being behind him and at the ground.
Once again, Fulgham is lined up as the No 3 receiver in this 3x1 set. With both of the No 1 and No 2 receivers breaking across the middle, all he has to do is beat his man and stay underneath the safety over the top. The cornerback is again holding inside leverage.
As he reaches the top of his route, a step towards the cornerback before breaking outside to "step on the cornerback's toes" provides him separation. Notice how quickly he can turn that corner showing excellent bend not to lose speed.
Coming out of his break, Fulgham flattens his route and works back toward the quarterback to not allow the defender to get underneath the route. It also creates room between him and the safety. To finish off the play, he shows outstanding concentration to make the catch and gets his feet in-bounds.
One of my favorite plays from the Week 7 matchup against the Giants was this out-n-up route against Cover 3. The tight end will work vertically, running towards the outside to draw the bailing corner's attention on the boundary. Fulgham looks to be running a quick out. The underneath defender keeps his eyes in the backfield too long, allowing Fulgham to break upfield with plenty of open field space.
If Wentz was able to lead Fulgham with the ball, we could be talking about a touchdown. Instead, he throws a back-shoulder pass, which actually gave the defender time to recover. Luckily, he was unable to get his hands on the ball. The most impressive part of this play was Fulgham's ability to adjust to the pass with a defender closing, and immediately get upfield for additional yards down the sideline.
Travis Fulgham provides Wentz with another big-bodied target that possesses a massive catch radius. His 80 3/4" wingspan measured at the combine ranks in the 91st percentile for the wide receiver position. He's a dominant receiver that can win at the line of scrimmage, understands how to gain leverage over his opponents, and eliminates inaccurate passes with his catch radius.
Will Travis Fulgham continue getting reps and producing as the Eagles get healthier?
As we discussed in the beginning of this article, Philadelphia's receiving weapons have been destroyed with injuries again in 2020. Jackson returned for the Week 7 matchup against the Giants but left the game with another injury that could leave him out for the rest of 2020. Even while Jackson was on the field, and it seemed like the Eagles were trying to force targets his way, Fulgham came away with 11 targets on Thursday night.
Reagor will eventually return to the lineup but will most likely be utilized in the slot. The only receiver that could threaten Fulgham's playing time would be the return of Alshon Jeffery. With how Fulgham is playing through the last three games, it's hard to imagine Jeffery taking many reps from the second-year receiver. Whether or not Jeffery will return to the field in an Eagles uniform is up in the air as Philadelphia has placed him on the trade block after being unable to trade Zach Ertz.
Given how the season has gone coming up on the halfway mark, it makes sense that the Eagles would try and move some players before the trade deadline. According to Over the Cap, Philadelphia is currently looking to be over the cap by more than $68 thousand in 2021. That means that players like Fulgham are being looked at as the long-term options over veterans like Jeffery.
It will be a tough sell for the Eagles coaching staff. Still, given how Fulgham has produced recently, it would be hard to take away snaps for another receiver even if that veteran receiver takes over $15 million in 2020 CAP space. Jeffery may take snaps from other receivers like rookies John Hightower and Quez Watkins, who are still developing with Jackson gone.
As of right now, it seems that Philadelphia found what they were looking for when they drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside just a season ago. Fulgham provides a cheap option at the X wide receiver position to, at some point, replace Jeffery. His physicality, understanding of leverage, ability to line up anywhere and run various routes, and bully mentality at the catch point with outstanding adjustment should provide him plenty of opportunities throughout the remainder of 2020.