New Eagles receiver Kamar Aiken is certain of one thing: Central Florida won the 2017 national championship.
“They are national champs,” the 2011 UCF grad said after practice Tuesday, laughing as if it wasn’t even a question. “They’re the champs until somebody beats them.”
But that’s about the only thing certain in his career right now.
What caliber of player is Aiken: the one who surprisingly emerged as Baltimore’s leading receiver in 2015, or the one who bounced around practice squads for years (from Buffalo to Chicago to New England) and hauled in only 15 catches last season with Indianapolis? Will he end up as football’s version of a one-hit wonder, or is there more stardom left in him?
And what are Aiken’s odds of making the roster for the Eagles, the team he joined only two weeks ago after an extended offseason of free agency? What can he bring as a depth option that the much younger Rashard Davis, Shelton Gibson and Greg Ward can’t?
Having only signed on July 25, the 29-year-old wideout hasn’t had much time to answer those questions yet, and he likely won’t get much before the cuts begin. But the Eagles do employ a number of people who watched Aiken explode in 2015 for 75 receptions, 944 yards and five touchdowns, including vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas and fellow newcomer receiver Mike Wallace, who can attest to Aiken’s ability to fill a big role.
“He’s been almost a 1,000-yard receiver, a guy who’s caught a lot of passes in this league, a great special teams player, a great locker room guy,” said Wallace. “He’s going to add veteran presence.”
Aiken obtained that opportunity to briefly become Joe Flacco’s main man because of a remarkable swath of injuries to other Ravens receivers, and yet again this preseason, the ailments of others above him in the depth chart may give him an opportunity to see the field a lot.
Wallace, Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor all sat out practice Tuesday nursing injuries; that earned Aiken lots of reps at 11-on-11, and plus a few plays of catching passes from Carson Wentz in 7-on-7 drills. If all three expected starting receivers miss Thursday’s preseason opener against Pittsburgh, Aiken could be heavily relied upon.
>> READ MORE: Tuesday’s practice observations
Kamar Aiken played for the Colts last season.
In the meantime, the 6-foot-2 target said he’s feeling stronger than ever following an offseason of renewing his dedication to weightlifting, which he said he’d lazily strayed away from during the course of his eight-year NFL career.
“I went back to actually lifting lifting now. Getting back to squats — I ain’t squatted in five years probably,” he said. “Last year I felt weak at times, whether it was on routes [or] on special teams, and I didn’t want to put myself in that situation again where I’m not ready enough.”
Last year was, all around, an undeniably disappointing one for both Aiken and the Colts. Beyond the misfortune of quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed the entire season, Aiken also inherited a smaller role than he expected. He saw his catch rate (34 percent) and yards per catch (8.9) both plummet well below his career averages, ultimately limiting him to only 133 yards on the year. “I did what they asked me to do, but I feel like I could’ve done a lot more,” he said.
>> READ MORE: Eagles don’t expect Carson Wentz for preseason opener
Aiken is calling for 2018 to be his fresh start, however, and he’s hoping a stronger supporting cast in Philadelphia will help make that happen.
And as for the uphill road to even make the 53-man roster that faces him first? Well, sometimes it takes a risky decision to lift oneself out of the ‘one-hit wonder’ category.
“At the end of the day, if you do what you’re supposed to and you make that roster, you know you’re on a loaded team,” he said. “I’d rather have that chance than go to a team where I know I’m going to make it and it’s possibly not a playoff team.”
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