The Eagles’ Candidates To Replace Maclin

Riley CooperThe Eagles were dealt their first big blow of the summer, losing Jeremy Maclin for the season with a torn ACL injury Saturday.

Entering the final year of his deal, Maclin was committed to proving his worth on the field this offseason.

“I think Jeremy Maclin has emerged as one of the hardest-working guys on our team,” Michael Vick said last month at Maclin’s football camp in West Deptford, N.J. “You watch him in the weight room, he goes in there and he’s just a different person there. So I think that’ll translate over to the field.”

Instead, Maclin faces surgery and a grueling rehab regimen away from his teammates in the months ahead.

In the past three seasons, Maclin has averaged 67 catches, 893 yards and seven touchdowns. So how will the Eagles replace that production in 2013? Here’s a look at their current options on the roster.

Riley Cooper –  He’s shown flashes of ability, but Cooper (6-3, 222) got a chance for extended playing time last season and didn’t put up great numbers. In the seven games where he played at least 70 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps (per Pro Football Focus), Cooper managed a total of 19 catches for 206 yards (29.4 per game) and two touchdowns.

Then again, he was operating in an offense that was a complete mess. Cooper has a few things going for him. Most notably, his size and his ability as a blocker, something Chip Kelly values. Cooper is unlikely to match Maclin’s production, but he’s probably the favorite right now to replace him as a starter.

Damaris Johnson – If Kelly is looking for a yards-after-the-catch guy, Johnson is the best option. He played 25.4 percent of the offensive snaps last year, finishing with 19 catches for 256 yards. But Johnson made the most of his limited action, averaging 5.5 yards after the catch, tops on the team, per PFF. He did not drop a ball and forced five missed tackles.

Johnson might be better suited for a slot role, but last year, 16 of his 19 receptions came while playing on the outside. At 5-8, he’s not going to be as physical a blocker as Cooper, and playing Johnson alongside 5-10 DeSean Jackson would give the Eagles one of the smallest pairs of receivers in the NFL.

Arrelious Benn – The Eagles acquired him from the Bucs this offseason, so Kelly clearly likes Benn’s skill set (All-22 breakdown here). Benn can line up in multiple places, has good size (6-2, 220) and is probably the best blocking wide receiver on the team. But he has not been productive (59 catches) in his first three seasons. Benn has battled injuries in the past and already was dealing with a left knee issue on the first day of camp. If he can stay healthy in the coming weeks, though, he’ll have a chance to compete for playing time.

Ifeanyi Momah – He’s a longshot, but Kelly’s plan is to let the competition play out on the field, so there’s no sense in counting anyone out at this point. The 6-7 wide receiver out of Boston College has a rare blend of size and speed. It’s been nearly two years since he’s played in a real game though. Having him step in and and be a starter right away is probably asking too much. We’ll have a better sense of how Momah’s progressing a few weeks from now.

Zach Ertz/Brent Celek/James Casey – Most observers (present company included) expect the Eagles to use plenty of two tight-end sets. But that doesn’t solve the problem of losing Maclin. Sure, Ertz, Celek and Casey can line up outside on occasion, but that’s not going to happen every play. Even in two tight-end sets, you need two wide receivers on the field. Kelly will mix and match personnel depending on the game-plan and the opponent, but the Eagles still need to find an outside receiver who can line up opposite Jackson.

The others – Jason Avant is a reliable veteran, but he’s a slot receiver and doesn’t pose a threat on the outside. Undrafted free agent Russell Shepard seems best-suited for a slot role too. The other wide receivers on the Eagles’ roster are Greg Salas, Will Murphy, Dave Ball and B.J. Cunningham. They are all longshots to make the roster at this point.

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