"The guy's a true pro," wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell said. "As good a pro as I've ever seen at any position.
"He studies it. He works hard. He's smart. He's coachable. He understands the game. And he's a very talented player."
The 2006 fourth-round pick out of the University of Michigan has developed into one of the best slot receivers in the league. The guy had a career-high 53 receptions last year without a single drop. Led the Eagles in percentage of targeted balls caught (71.4 percent). Led the Eagles in third-down receptions (18). His 31 catches for first downs were third behind Jeremy Maclin's 37 and Brent Celek's 32.
Over the last 4 years, 128 of his 197 receptions, or 65 percent of them, have resulted in first downs. Only DeSean Jackson has a higher first-down percent during that period.
Those 128 first-down catches were only 31 fewer than Maclin and 17 fewer than DeSean Jackson, despite the fact that Maclin played 617 more snaps and Jackson 301 more than Avant.
Avant's 60 third-down receptions the last 4 years are 14 more than both Maclin and Jackson. He converted a team-high 49 of those 60 catches into first downs. That's four more than Celek, 13 more than Jackson and 15 more than Maclin.
The sure-handed receiver dropped only eight passes in the last 4 years, compared with 28 by Celek, 27 by Maclin and 26 by Jackson.
In addition to his value to the team as a slot receiver, Avant also has become one of the team's leaders. You might recall he played a significant role in helping douse the flames from the raging Riley Cooper N-word inferno earlier this month.
His from-the-heart plea for forgiveness for Cooper not only staved off potential black-white division in the locker room, but also helped make it possible for Cooper to return to the team, which could turn out to be very important, with Maclin out for the season with a torn right ACL.
Even though he's technically the team's No. 3 wide receiver, Avant has been on the field for 69.4 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps over the last four seasons, compared with 84.3 for Maclin and 76.7 for Jackson.
With Maclin out, Cooper likely will be paired with Jackson in most two-wide-receiver sets.
Coach Chip Kelly's fondness for multiple-tight-end sets could reduce Avant's playing time. Then again, the up-tempo offense is expected to result in more plays per game.
"In this offense, we're going to be playing so many plays, it doesn't really matter how many you get," Avant said. "After three or four [plays], you're going to be doing this [he touches his head, the signal to the sideline that the player needs a break]."
Avant loves Kelly's offense. Receivers have much more route-option freedom in it than they did in Andy Reid's West Coast offense.
"In this offense, I think the sky's the limit," he said. "In the old offense, it was kind of contained. There's only certain things you can get. There's option 1 and option 2.
"In this offense, you don't know who the No. 1 option is from play to play. It gives the guys that are open a lot an opportunity to get the ball a little bit more."
Avant isn't worried about being phased out by the tight ends.
"I'm just trying to be the most efficient when I'm in there," he said. "If I'm efficient when I'm in there, you gotta play me.
"You want to gain an advantage when the nickel [cornerback] comes on. So I've got to be stronger than the nickel back, so we can run the ball as effectively when I'm out there as when a tight end is out there [in the slot].
"The more efficient you are when you're out there, the more [playing] opportunities you'll get. Because [the coaches] will say, 'OK, we're plus-20 when he's in the game.' "
Avant played strictly on the outside at Michigan.
"I was an X," he said. "I did what Jeremy did."
But he didn't really have the speed to be an "X" receiver in the NFL. The Eagles selected him with the idea of moving him inside to the slot.
It was one of the few things they got right in the '06 draft. Their four selections that year before they took Avant with the 109th overall pick: defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, offensive tackle Winston Justice, linebacker Chris Gocong and guard Max Jean-Gilles.
The middle of the field where Avant makes his living is a high-traffic area. You have to be physical, which the 6-foot, 212-pounder is. You have to have good hands, which he does. And you have to be able to make contested catches, which he does.
"He's built himself into one of the top slots in the league," Bicknell said.
He's done it through hard work, both on and off the field.
"Inside [in the slot], you have to watch film," he said. "Outside, you can get away sometimes with hitting and missing on the film. Inside, though, it's a must.
"You have to know where the zones are. That's half the battle. Knowing your guy in front of you and being able to take a hit and being strong enough to know the hit is coming."
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