Travis Fulgham: Flash in the Pan or Breakout Star?
Photo by Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer
Travis Fulgham, the second-year receiver out of Old Dominion, has caused one hell of a debate this week following his 10-catch, 152-yard, touchdown performance in Week 5 against quite possibly the best defense in the NFL. Tons of people are in the camp that this is a flash in the pan, but just as many are looking at Fulgham as the breakout receiver that Carson Wentz needs in order for the Eagles to compete. We talked about this on the episode this week, so I decided to dive in a little deeper to see if we could be witnessing a breakout.
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First of all, look at the Best Comparable for Fulgham. After watching what Michael Gallup has been able to do thus far in the league, you have to like that. What I want to highlight, however, is the Burst Score. 72nd-percentile doesn't scream "elite," but you'd be shocked to know that the Burst Score is better than Michael Thomas and Amari Cooper. Upon some examination, Fulgham has a gear after the catch that has allowed him to maximize his fantasy production. The Catch Radius is expected for a bigger receiver, but it's also noteworthy, as Fulgham really encapsulated the Alshon Jeffery role in Fulgham's most recent game.
Obviously, there's not a ton to work off of here. Fulgham has bounced around the league, getting cut by the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers prior to landing with the Eagles. But in the small film sample that we have, I loved what I was seeing.
This screenshot comes from a play early in the game. The first thing I noticed about Fulgham is his physicality. He was bullying the Steelers DBs all game, and that's what we're seeing here. Fulgham leverages his right arm to effectively push off and create separation without drawing a penalty flag.
Mike Hilton overcommits, thinking Fulgham is going to break outside. Fulgham bullies him out of the way. The outcome:
Obviously, the play didn't develop in Fulgham's favor here, as Wentz and his one-read nature wasn't able to locate the wide open receiver in the middle of the field.
Here's another example of Fulgham's bullying. Here, the play has broken down and the pocket has effectively collapsed (as many Eagles pockets do). Fulgham stops on a dime, subtly using his right arm to create some separation, and breaks free. Wentz finds him on this one.
The above target came during Fulgham's stretch of five straight targets; the kind of chemistry that Wentz once displayed with Alshon Jeffery.
Here, we see Fulgham settling down in between the dropped corner and safety. He sells the 9-route enough to get the safety to bite, giving him some space to work. The corner starts to drift upfield a bit, but Wentz's inability to look at another receiver killed him on this play.
As we see, Wentz felt the upfield corner cheating Fulgham's way and put it in a terrible spot. Fulgham had no chance, but recognizing and settling into the soft spot in the zone was good.
The credit can be given to Doug Pederson here. The formation indicated a clear weak side rush. Fulgham was able to sell the play fake, squaring up the linebacker acting like he was ready to block.
It froze him, and he broke free leaving every defender 5 yards away or more. It was a brilliant play call, but Fulgham's commitment to selling the fake block allowed for this play to develop. I was shocked at how well-executed this play was.
And finally, the one I tweeted out (@FFBaldMan if you don't already follow!). Here, we see Carson Wentz staring down his checkdown. Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the elite safeties in the league, recognizes this and just turns his back to Travis Fulgham. Meanwhile, Fulgham is using that aforementioned physicality to break wide open down the right side. There was easily 3 yards of separation, and it would have been a 25-yard handoff if Wentz had gone through his progressions properly.
To summarize, Fulgham's performance was not a fluke. I saw someone compare him to Michael Thomas (as a joke), and I laughed. And then I watched this film and recognized where they crafted that joke. His nuance in creating separation is something that exactly zero remaining wide receivers on the Philadelphia Eagles possess. For now.
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The argument against Travis Fulgham is largely "he's the only guy left." That makes sense. We assume that Alshon Jeffery will come back in some form or fashion in the coming weeks. But what happens if we see an AJ Green-like downfall? Alshon was already on the decline and he's been out of football for nearly 11 months. Fulgham's role encapsulated a ton of what Jeffery did well, much like Tee Higgins newfound role is encapsulating a lot of what AJ Green did well. I'm of the mindset that Alshon is more likely to be washed up than he is to be even close to as effective as Fulgham was against a great Pittsburgh secondary.
Somewhere in the middle, I'd guess. We aren't going to see Fulgham catch 10 balls every single week. Especially considering that Jalen Reagor will also return from his injury soon and Desean Jackson is bound to see the field. What we may see is an Allen Lazard-like situation. A guy who the Packers clearly regarded highly and heard praise from his quarterback all offseason, but was doubted because of draft pedigree and a weird perception that UDFAs or lowly-drafted players don't often hit.
He's a big target, big play type of guy for a quarterback that desperately needs a receiver with such qualities. Should you have picked him up this week? Yes. But if you're playing in dynasty, I think you can wait a few weeks and get him for virtually nothing, only to see him vastly outperform the price you paid. Be patient, but Travis Fulgham surely looked like the real deal on Sunday.