Offseason Primer: Eagles Wide Receivers

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position, player-by-player look at the Eagles’ roster. Today, we start with wide receivers.

YEAR IN REVIEW

DeSean Jackson – It’s amazing to me how polarizing Jackson has become among the fan base. We can’t write about the Eagles’ speedy receiver in this space without preparing for a heated debate in the comments section.

Here are the numbers from 2012: 45 catches, 700 yards, two touchdowns. On the surface, those are unimpressive. But we need to dig a little deeper. Jackson’s production is based on getting behind the defense and keying the vertical passing game. That becomes difficult when you have an offensive line that can’t pass-protect and quarterbacks who struggle to get the ball downfield.

If you want visual proof, check out the All-22 breakdowns from the season.

If you want numbers, here they are. Nick Foles ranked 24th in deep-ball accuracy, per Pro Football Focus. Just 35.7 percent of his passes that traveled 20+ yards were on-target. Michael Vick was even worse, ranking 26th at 35 percent.

Still, in nine games with Vick at QB, Jackson averaged 76.2 yards per game. That translates to a 1,219-yard season over 16 games. Shaky hands had been an issue for him in the past, but Jackson didn’t drop a single catchable ball in 2012, according to STATS.com.

He missed the final five games after suffering a rib injury. But it’s worth noting that Jackson missed just three games in his first four seasons due to injury.

The shortcomings have been well-documented. Jackson is never going to be a serious red-zone threat. And he’s not going to be someone who makes tough, contested catches over the middle. But he has elite speed and is only 26-years-old. Jackson sounds legitimately excited to play for Chip Kelly and is without question a key part of this offense going forward.

Jeremy Maclin – His 2012 numbers were right around his career averages: 69 catches for 857 yards and seven touchdowns. With Jackson on the field, Maclin averaged 50.4 yards per game. Without him, Maclin averaged 70.6. Fans sometime rip on him for constantly begging referees for flags, but it’s worth noting that his tactics often worked. Maclin led the NFL, drawing 134 yards worth of pass interference penalties, according to Football Outsiders. And while he sometimes gets the injury-prone label, Maclin has missed five games in four seasons – not an egregious amount.

Maclin does several things well. He had 12 catches of 20+ yards last season to lead the team, and also had eight red-zone grabs (three touchdowns). Over the last three seasons, Maclin’s found the end zone 22 times. However, he doesn’t have one specific skill that stands out as being special, and is probably not the ideal complement to Jackson. Maclin’s strength is not making tough, contested catches over the middle of the field.

Scheduled to be a free agent after the 2013 season, Maclin is only 24-years-old. The Eagles have three options in the coming months: extend him, trade him or let him play the deal out.

Jason Avant – At this point, you know what you’re getting with Avant. A tough, veteran slot receiver with great hands. Only Wes Welker (88), Randall Cobb (63) and Victor Cruz (58) had more catches in the slot than Avant (51) last season, per PFF. He’ll make “wow” plays on occasion and is reliable, even though he doesn’t have the speed or size to be a consistent playmaker. With Jackson and Maclin on the outside, the Eagles need someone to do the dirty work in between the numbers. And Avant’s been that guy.

Riley Cooper – After Jackson went down, he got a chance for increased playing time. Cooper played at least 70 percent of the snaps in each of the Eagles’ final seven games, but averaged just 29.4 yards per contest. On the season, he averaged just 10.8 yards catch, although as I mentioned above, the Eagles’ vertical passing game never got going because of shaky offensive line and quarterback play. Going forward, Cooper is probably best suited for the No. 4 WR/special-teams role. If the personnel on the roster remains the same, he could be used in special red-zone packages as well.

Damaris Johnson – He had 19 catches for 256 yards on 30 targets. Johnson showed flashes of being able to make defenders miss, averaging 5.5 yards after the catch (tops on the team). He also improved in the second half of the season as the team’s primary punt returner. Johnson will be competing for a roster spot, but could be a guy Kelly likes.

LOOKING AHEAD

Like with everything else, the key question this offseason is: What does Kelly want? And how will he best utilize his personnel?

For example, roles will change. Kelly’s gone on record as saying his wide receivers won’t play if they don’t block. As we’ve pointed out here in the past, Eagles wide receivers did a terrible job of blocking in the run game last season. That will have to change.

It’s almost a guarantee that Jackson will be used differently. What’s the plan when teams play their safeties deep against the Eagles? Kelly’s past indicates he’ll run the ball. And Jackson should see plenty of looks on WR screens. He could see touches out of the backfield as well.

The Maclin situation is an intriguing one. The guess here is that the Eagles let him play out his contract – at least to start 2013. But a trade or even an extension are possible.

I’d be surprised if the Eagles made a splash at wide receiver in free agency, although there are some intriguing names at the top of the list, like Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings and Wes Welker. Wallace does a lot of the same things Jackson does, although a receiver like Bowe would give the Eagles some size. In the end, those players are going to demand high price tags, and I think the Eagles have too many holes to address elsewhere. Rotoworld has a comprehensive list of all the wide receiver free agents.

If the Eagles don’t think Maclin figures into their long-term plans, they could address wide receiver in the draft. They could also consider upgrading from Avant in the slot, especially if Kelly wants someone with more speed. Some have asked about Maclin as a potential option in the slot. Per PFF, he actually played 31.6 percent of his snaps in the slot last season. But again, making contested catches in traffic is not his strong suit.

Overall, I wouldn’t expect dramatic changes to this group of wide receivers, although there’s always the chance that Kelly and Howie Roseman surprise us.

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  • Bdawk20

    For Kelly’s style offense, he should be very excited about D. Johnson. I think he has potential to be a Wes Welker in the Eagles offense. He is THAT good, but Andy underutilized him.

    • The Guru

      What did you see last year to even have the stones to mention Damarius Johnson in the same sentence as Wes Welker? Or maybe this is Johnson posting….

      • Bdawk20

        Let’s see: comparing rookie years: Punt Returns: almost identical average yards/return (Johnson is a little higher, plus he has one more TD), Johnson is actually faster (ran a 4.52 40 where Welker ran a 4.65), Johnson had 30 targets with 19 receptions this year, averaging 13.5 yards per reception. Welker’s rookie year he had 29 receptions (they did not track targets back then, but Welker played in 2 more games), averaging 15 yards per reception, both had zero TD’s. So, how far off is this comparison really? Not at all.

        • Bdawk20

          To top it off, Andy does not know how to use these type of players. We cut Danny Amendola and he is doing well enough in St. Louis that he could have filled that role, but Andy had to stay loyal to other guys for one reason or another who really did not produce.

          • theycallmerob

            You mean Andy had trouble recognizing player talents and tailoring his scheme/playcalling to that little thing called reality? No……

          • Bdawk20

            Didn’t you hear? Every QB is a West Coast QB!

        • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

          Way too early to draw these comparisons. Statistically similar, sure. But we need to give Damaris a bit more time to see if he’s anywhere near as a good as Welker.

          • Bdawk20

            Hence why I said “I think he has potential to be a Wes Welker in the Eagles offense”. I did not say that he is a Wes Welker (because Wes Welker was once a rookie too), but the potential is there (size, speed, hands).

        • Graham

          Thank You

        • The Guru

          What a joke….I guess Bryce Brown can be compared with Walter Payton because he had a better rushing average and 115 less yards in less carries. Oh wait, that just sounds silly doesn’t it?

          • Johnny Utah

            Dude, this guy is off his rocker….but that’s a great comparison. Next year we’re going to have Wes Welker and Walter Payton! Watch out NFL! LOL

          • Bdawk20

            Right. Because Bryce Brown was as touted as Walter Payton coming out of college. Meanwhile, Wes Welker was undrafted, has a very similar skillset to Damaris Johnson, yet somehow he became one of the top receivers in the league under a coach who has asked Chip Kelly for offensive advice. I must be completely crazy by saying that Damaris Johnson has the potential to be the Eagles Wes Welker.

          • theycallmerob

            Earf ambassador…just don’t waste your time. How quickly people forget how Welker toiled in Miami before a certain coach-with-a-brain got ‘hold of him.

          • Bdawk20

            It’s true. These people act like I am Dave Spadaro or something, I don’t see potential in everyone, but I am calling Johnson now.

          • Bdawk20
      • Dave Haley

        I think he answered you pretty Damn good!

    • Johnny Utah

      Wes Welker and Damarius Johnson? Seriously? That has to be a joke right?

  • ohitsdom

    I was a DeSean hater last season. I couldn’t stand to see him give half effort and complain about his contract. That said, he blew me away this year. Incredible effort, and he was worth every penny of his contract. He’s still immature at times, but he’s definitely stepping up as a leader. Even in the little things he’s giving great effort, like blocking, preventing interceptions on badly thrown balls, and making tackles when DBs make an interception.

  • jabostick

    I hope they avoid the big-name free agent route. Aside from the odd exception, that hardly ever works out (in terms of the price tag they come with).

  • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

    Never understood the people who hate on DeSean for not being a red zone threat. Listen people, you can’t have the height and the weight of a big red zone threat and have DeSean’s speed. What he does on the field doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, he spreads defenses and keeps the safeties deep. We didn’t have the offensive line or QB last season to take advantage of this. Chip will change this. Big Red didn’t seem to think a big red zone target was ever needed, that’s not DeSean’s fault.

    • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

      I also thought D Johnson was a welcomed addition. Johnson has quickness and good speed for the slot, he’s hungry and, more than willing to catch the ball anywhere on the field. This kid came from no where. Keep him practicing against good competition in camp where he practices tricks to get separation. Show him how to go get the ball and he’ll become just as effective as Welker. His agent should have him in receiving camp right now.

  • theycallmerob

    IMO,

    1) trade Maclin while he has some value. He brings some good things to the table, but is just not the complementary receiver we need across from DJax. He’ll demand more $ next year than the Eagles should give him, considering DJax’s contract is still on the books.
    2) keep Avant at least 1 more year. As Sheil said, he’s been underrated in the slot for years, and seems to be one of the few leaders on this team. I get the speed thing with coach Kelly, but just look to Anquan Boldin’s run in the playoffs to see the value of a “hands” guy
    3) keep D. Johnson at least 1 more year to play in Kelly’s scheme
    4) cut Cooper; we’ve seen enough
    5) get a BIG WR in the DRAFT!!!!

    • vtshocker

      1) completely agree with you on Maclin… and its the perfect set up and time to do it. Trade him to St Louis…. they are at the point of dragging players off the street. He’s from Missouri…a perfect fit. Not sure what type of compensation we could get but certainly a 2nd.
      2) Agree again. this team needs leadership and Avant seems to be one of those guys
      3) Agree… he’s cheap and could produce in Kelly’s system from the slot where being more shifty than fast can work.
      4) Not sure i agree with this depending on who we target in free agency/draft. I’ve always been a fan of Coopers blocking. He needs to polish up a bit on his route running by i view him as Avant lite… i say keep him another year and lets see how he works in Kelly’s system.
      5) If we did trade Maclin we definitely would need somebody. Somebody in the draft we could nab in the 3rd round is Marcus Davis from VT. 6’4, 235 lbs 35+ vertical leap, and can run faster than a 4.5. If we go free agency D-bowe if relatively affordable.

      • GoBirds1

        Maclin in his last year we would be luck to get a 4th round pick. Davis is a specimen but has issues, hence can get him later in the draft. Can’t or does not like to block, drops a lot of catchable balls and generally has an attitude problem.

    • GoBirds1

      I don’t care if it is your opinion or not, you cant EVER have Boldin and Avant in the same sentence, let alone a comparison of their respective hands. Boldin has been and continues to be an absolute stud receiver regardless of the fact that he has lost a step. Unfortunately we could have had him, except we took the garbage in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th round in the draft in ’10 instead. Way to go Howie – he is no Ozzie.

      • theycallmerob

        oh, please reconsider!!! I won’t be able to sleep tonight if you don’t hold me in high regard

        • GoBirds1

          sorry i wasted my time replying to such a dork- ROB

    • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

      Avant in no life compares to Boldin. There’s room on the team, but there should not be room in the rotation for Avant unless there is a desperate need for talent on the roster. Cooper doesn’t belong in the NFL

      • theycallmerob

        Like GoBirds, apparently you’re having trouble reading my english. I never compared the two; rather, I made the point that not every receiver on the Eagles roster next year has to be sub-4.4, as some fans believe is a requirement to play for Kelly. And I already said that about Cooper.
        And why the Avant hate? Of course he’s not a great WR, nor is he irreplaceable, but he has a unique skillset among the current Philly WR’s, and has shown time and again the ability to make big catches at critical times. As far from a diva WR as you can get.

        I’d rather have 1000 Avant’s than 1 Titus Young.

        • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

          Fair enough, but that’s common in Phila. Fans tend to appreciate good character guys who give great effort. They’re not and haven’t been good enough, but they’re great for public perception.

          I prefer a TO kind of guy, somebody that gets the job done and also somebody like Westbrook a fella with grit and heart. That’s not to say Avant doesn’t have heart, but he’s not a player Defensive Coordinators have to spend nights awake planning to defend. Avant and Celek doesn’t even require special attention from opposing defenses.

          In my opinion those are two positions that require up grades in talent, slot and tight end.

          • theycallmerob

            I could not agree with you more re: slot and tight end. When evaluating Avant and D. Johnson, I don’t think either is a viable long-term solution, and we could definitely use an upgrade. However, I’m not ready to right them off (particularly Johnson) after 1 year, nor do I think rolling with them for another year would be devastating if the Eagles decide to use more of their draft picks on defense.

            I would LOVE for Kelly/Roseman to grab a stud TE in this draft. From my brief look at the prospects, it seems there are a number of good TE’s from both a receiving and blocking standpoint. Look at this year’s conference championship games: all 4 teams involved have a dynamic TE threat.

            Also, I love Westbrook (one of my favorite Eagles of all time), but I think the beginning-of-the-end started with TO bringing his drama into the locker room. just my belief. Undeniable talent, but too much of a diva.

  • 1972

    I dont hate d jax but these numbers mean nothing to me. the two numbers i care about are td’s and wins. number one reciever cant score 2 touchdowns i dont care whos throwing you the ball. Fitz had 4 , but he’s the only game in town.Shady, maclin celek ,vick. these are supposed top players so jackson should have shined alot more last season.
    GET YOUR ASS ON PUNT RETURNS!!!!

    • ohitsdom

      Did you look at the all 22 film at all? Every play, Jackson has a safety lined up over him. And Marty/Reid still had him run deep into double coverage. How’s that his fault? Even if he has 0 catches, he’s still tying up 2 defenders every play.

  • The Guru

    This is how I’d handle the WR position. I’d keep Jackson. Guys who can stretch the field and create space are tough to find. It would mean more if we had a slot receiver or TE with more talent to show just the value DeSean brings to the table. I’d trade Maclin straight up to KC for Dwayne Bowe (if you could sign Bowe). Maclin played at Missouri and Reid loves him. He just doesn’t do enough over the middle/red zone to make it work.

    I’d cut Cooper and Damarius Johnson. Cooper is a waste of a roster spot and watching Johnson fair catch balls at the 4 is all I need to see of him.

    Avant, I’d probably cut, but wouldn’t be upset if they brought him back. Great hands, but zero speed. Good special teams guy.

    • ohitsdom

      Trade Maclin for Bowe straight up? Yeah, of course you would, but there’s no way the Chiefs would do that. Cooper played well at the end of the season. Remember when Marty finally called a fade to him in the red zone? Beautiful touchdown. And it’s not Damaris’ fault that the ball comes to him and there’s a defender about to crush him. Now, he did have some bad catches earlier in the year that he should’ve let bounce into the redzone…

      • The Guru

        Bowe is not going to re-sign and they are going to lose him for nothing. They franchise him and trade him for Maclin.

        And please stop it with Cooper and Johnson….they shouldn’t be on an NFL roster.

  • Andy

    Are Jackson, Maclin, and Avant = Jones, Smith, and Boldin? Heck no! But they aren’t Pinkston, Mitchell, and Thrash, either. This team has much more immediate concerns than the receiving corps. My guess is we will see much more of Riley Cooper and Jason Avant as blocking WRs in the zone read this season.

    • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

      If Riley Cooper continues to survive training camp that’s a signal the Eagles are stuck in mud, and if Avant is depended on as a major contributor we’re screwed.

  • Explorer51

    If you’re going to keep a pee-wee size receiver, trade Jackson (who just hasn’t been the same since that hit from Dunta Robinson) and give Johnson more playing time, who has similar speed but doesn’t have the yips yet. I’d love to see a big guy like Julio Jones, AJ Green, or an Anquan Boldin…receivers who go after the ball and usually come down with it. I wouldn’t mind a Bowe, Maclin, Johnson trio…

    • unfortunatename

      Johnson has similar speed? That is just incorrect. DeSean Jackson is one of the fastest players in the league. I get that you would rather see a physical receiver, but there is no equivalence between the speed of these two guys.

      • Explorer51

        You are right, according to their last measurables (4.35 vs 4.5), and I incorrectly stated my point. It seems, to me at least, that Jackson has not played as fast as he did in his first couple of years, not creating separation, much lower YAC, and just about every other stat down in ’11 and ’12. Have we really seen his speed in the past two years? Not to mention two injuries (concussions and ribs that were pretty serious) that could make him even more cautious in the future. I just believe that Johnson, though a touch slower, can still fill the speed role, has no real injury history and he also happens to be much, much cheaper.

        • unfortunatename

          I am biased because I am a Desean fan. As a Cal alum, I watched him do some unbelievable things in college. One thing he did was dramatically increase the numbers of the wr (Lavelle Hawkins) playing opposite him. DeSean creates a mismatch that teams have to game plan for. He didn’t drop any balls this year, and I think his lack of big plays had more to do with teams playing deep safeties which opened up the middle of the field and poor O line play.

          • D3Keith

            Which, if you believe this is true and you read about Chip Kelly’s base philosophy, teams who play safeties deep to stop Jackson will pay for it as we run the ball down their throats. Then as they start to creep down in the box later in the game, Kelly will pass.

            Taking what the defense gives you isn’t really innovation. But it will feel like innovation because we aren’t accustomed to our coach adjusting midstream, from quarter to quarter even. Couple that with a breakneck pace.

            If the OL gets healthy and addressed early in the draft, I think that side of the ball is in good shape, no matter who the QB is. The pieces are there.

        • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

          That’s because the Eagles scheme sucks, They’re not using Jackson correctly. Their best option in Andy’s offense was Jackson Long, or Jackson Crossing, and he’s not catching balls in front of defenders in space. Jackson is still young and raw talent and at every opportunity to return kicks, punts and bubble screens, Jackson should be in a position to hurt defenses and cover units.

    • fran35

      Jackson type speed?!!? Damaris is slow for an NFL WR. Couple that with the fact that he is 5’8 and you see why he went undrafted. Now, he does have very good quickness, but that is dramatically different than great speed.

  • nicksaenz1

    The only receiver I would really go after in the offseason is Boldin. Hell of a player who has enough speed left and makes ALL of the tough grabs and initiates contact, and at 32, he knows he’s not in for a long deal and could possibly come in at a reasonable price. Dude is still a stud, and our receiving corp needs a physical guy like that. I don’t see Bowe leaving KC, so that’s that. If they can’t draft a guy and/or get Boldin, I’m fine with what we have. We’ll have more pressing needs if this 3-4 switch happens. A little more O-line depth wouldn’t kill us either.

  • FMWarner

    I’d keep Jackson for sure. His value to an offense is more than his stats, it’s what he does to a defense opening up opportunities elsewhere. I’m a bigger Maclin fan than most here, I don’t think he’s soft. I’d extend him if he has a reasonable asking price. Avant is a good leader on a team with not many of those, and he has great hands, so he can stay. Cooper can go…I’m tired of waiting for him to blossom into a Plaxico-type guy. Johnson I’m okay either way with. He showed some flashes, but it’s not like he set the world on fire. You can probably find another one of him without too much trouble.

  • JSmith

    Is there any hope remaining for Marvin McNutt?

  • GoBirds1

    SK – I find it interesting that you said the same thing about our #1 and #2 WRs ability to ‘not making tough, contested catches over the middle of the field.’ I would add they can’t make tough contested catches anywhere on the field. For the most part that applies the the TEs and RBs too. Don’t QBs need their receivers to make plays, particularly for a developing young QB. How good would Ryan and Flacco be without their respective receiving corps. We need upgrades everywhere. Lets start on OL and DL.

  • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

    Some of you don’t respect DJax in Philly. DJax hasn’t been used properly, he’s not gotten the ball enough with room, whether it’s handoffs, or punt and kick returns. There’s not a defender in the NFL who does not hate seeing DJax with the ball and room to make a move.

    Just sending him to catch the long ball is misusing his skills.

    The Eagles have long needed a receiver with size who can go get the ball in the air with his hands, similar to Boldin, and Crabtree and Vernon Davis, even Welker goes after the ball instead of waiting for the ball to come to him.

    USC has a receiver, Woods who could compliment DJax very well. He needs a little work, but he’s a football player first and receiver second. Nasty kid that loves to block, can run good routes and used to be a track star in California High School. He is likely to be on the board in the second round.