A common practice, when scanning over the current Eagles roster for areas of need, is to skip right past the wide receiver position. They have DeSean Jackson, they have Jeremy Maclin, they have more pressing concerns. Move on.
But it’s worthwhile to take a more thorough look.
For one, this is a brand new regime. And while Jackson and Maclin seem like fits for Chip Kelly on the surface, it’s important not to assume before we have a better feel for the coach. (For instance, Kelly puts a high value on receivers that can block, and this group was sub-par in that area last year. Is this an easy fix, or is there a potential issue ahead?)
Second, the jury is still out as to just how good of a wide receiver corps this truly is.
Pro Football Focus features a stat that lists which receivers in 2012 had the most combined first downs and touchdowns. As you might imagine, Calvin Johnson is far and away the leader with a combined number of 95. Heavy hitters Andre Johnson (79), Brandon Marshall (75), Reggie Wayne (74), Roddy White (73) and Wes Welker (72) follow.
Maclin ranks 41st on the list with a total number of 37. Jason Avant (31) is 50th, and Jackson — who missed five games — totaled 30.
Injuries, offensive line woes and inconsistent quarterback play are all factors, but that doesn’t mean the receivers should be completely taken off the hook, either.
Jackson was steady (he only dropped one pass last season) but he was not given a $51 million deal to be steady; he is expected to be a difference-maker. The 26-year-old burner was targeted deep down the field (20-plus yards) 24 times, and wound up with six catches for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Again, that is not all on him, but when the home run is your bread and butter, you need to hit more of them.
You can make the case that the six-year veteran has not been used properly, particularly of late. The creator of the Miracle of the New Meadowlands only returned one punt in ’12. And he ran so many fly patterns in the name of taking the top off the defense, you wonder if the team would have been better served using him more in the short and intermediate game. Jackson seems to think so.
“I think this year coming up with Chip coming in here, with the style of play of his offense, it’s really going to help me out a lot more too as well, just because I’m going to be able to get certain looks, get the ball in my hands, do different things that we weren’t doing the past five years,” Jackson said.
“I think a lot of times in the past couple years, teams really were able to key in on me and things like that.”
The counterargument is that Andy Reid is not a dope. Perhaps he utilized Jackson in a specific way because he had a good understanding of his strengths and limitations, having worked closely with him for so long. Kelly may envision an expanded role for No. 10, but his tune could change once theory becomes practice.
As for Maclin (69 catches, 857 yards, seven touchdowns, nine drops), what many thought would be a breakout season turned out to be similar to his previous campaigns. His contract is up at the end of the year.
Of course there are other receivers to talk about, too, from holdovers Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson to offseason acquisition Arrelious Benn. But to be an elite group, the two men at the top have to perform.
The question is: How sold is Kelly on the Maclin-Jackson tandem? And how anxious is he to get himself a back-up plan in this draft?
WHAT YOU MISSED
Kyle Long could be an option for the Eagles in the second round.
Sheil gives an update on the latest players to visit the Eagles.
Why the Eagles could be after a tight end in this draft.
Plenty of analysts see Geno Smith ending up in Philly.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jon Gruden gives his thoughts on EJ Manuel:
I think he’s the quarterback in this draft with the greatest ability to execute any kind of play you can dream up — designed quarterback runs, option plays and, most importantly, drop-back passes. Where Manuel draws questions is because while he can do it all, he hasn’t proved that he has the one elite trait. But you can develop him, because while he hasn’t done one thing perfectly, he’s the guy with the greatest portfolio of skills.
In Don Banks’ latest mock draft, he has tackle Luke Joeckel falling to the Eagles.
I still can’t pull the trigger on the Eagles taking West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, because my sense is Chip Kelly views Florida State’s E.J. Manuel a more viable option early in the second round. In Joeckel, the Eagles get one of the draft’s elite offensive tackles and give themselves alternatives as both starters at the position, Jason Peters and Todd Herremans, return from injury-marred 2012 seasons.
Howie Roseman talks draft today. Will pass along his thoughts after his morning session with reporters.