On McNutt, Cooper And Plaxico

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Marvin McNuttAfter Riley Cooper went down yesterday with a fractured collarbone (details here from McManus), I received quite a few questions on Twitter about what the injury means for the Eagles’ personnel at wide receiver. So let’s tackle ‘em here, starting first with Cooper’s projected role.

The 2010 fifth-round pick was penciled in as the Eagles’ fourth receiver. On the surface, that’s not a huge deal. Per Football Outsiders, the Eagles went with four wide receivers on 9 percent of their offensive snaps last year. That was fifth-most in the league, but not a particularly high number.

However, the bigger factor here is depth. In three games as a starter last season, Cooper averaged 80 yards receiving, and he caught the game-winning touchdown from Vince Young in the second game against the Giants. He had his share of issues (four drops, per Pro Football Focus), but was relatively productive. If he’s out for a significant period of time, the major question is one of depth: Who steps in as a starter should DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin go down?

The other concern here is special teams. Cooper was a blocker on the return units, and he was the first man down in coverage seven times, third-most on the team behind only Colt Anderson and Akeem Jordan.

As for where the Eagles go from here, assuming Jackson, Maclin and Jason Avant stay healthy, they really don’t have to do a lot from an offensive standpoint. They can just go with four wide receivers even less and stick with their popular 1 RB-3WR-1 TE personnel grouping. Or they can get a second tight end like Clay Harbor on the field more if they want to.

The two players people are asking about are sixth-round pick Marvin McNutt and free agent Plaxico Burress. Cooper and McNutt are both listed at 6-3 and had almost identical 40 times coming out of college. McNutt was productive at Iowa, catching 82 balls for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Fifteen of his 28 college touchdowns were in the red zone. I don’t expect him to play a big role as a rookie, but he has a chance to earn some playing time with a strong camp and preseason.

Burress, meanwhile, continues to search for a team. While his better days are behind him, he still had 45 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns last season. His 10 red-zone catches were tied for sixth-most among wide receivers. There’s no indication that the Eagles are looking at the veteran wide receiver right now, but it’s certainly not an option to rule out completely. Remember, the Birds put in a waiver claim earlier this week for wide receiver Dez Briscoe, who eventually went to the Redskins.

As I wrote yesterday, undrafted free agent Damaris Johnson is making an impression at camp and already had a decent chance to make the team. Those chances go up even more if Cooper is unavailable to start the season.

Update: Andy Reid said after the walk-through that Cooper will be out for six weeks and that the team has no plans to add a wide receiver right now.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

  • Jcan

    Sheil, just wanted to take a quick second and thank you and Tim for this amazing site, it’s my new “number one” source to go to for all things Birds…. Congrats!

    • miked718

      Agreed. Along with Tommy Lawlor and Les, my Eagles needs are met and then some.

  • Eagle Dave

    Why would you save a roster spot for Cooper? He’s not THAT valuable. Now we have to keep 6 WRs and be short @ LB or RBI or somewhere else? Put him on IR and let him compete next year.

    • Don

      He’s going to be back by the regular season. Why would we IR him?

  • AJ

    I liked the “first man down in coverage” stat. Where did that come from?

  • MikeM

    Concerns over 4th WR depth is a champagne problem for Eagles fans to have – I would take literally ANY of the WRs mentioned above over the old days of Trash and Stinkston. We will be fine and Cooper will be back by the beginning of the season. Just gives McNutt, Gilyard, and Johnson more reps to make an impact.

  • Fighting Eagles

    Andy SIGN Plax now! No playoffs or Super Bowl if you don’t!