Maclin: ‘You Just Can’t Plug Guys In Anywhere’

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

There was no bitterness in Jeremy Maclin’s voice.

He had hoped to stick with the Eagles for the next stretch of his career. He watched his former team throw out guaranteed dollars to outsiders like Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray. He said his decision wasn’t all about the money, while admitting that the contract obviously played a role.

But Maclin seemed happy when he addressed reporters at Todd Herremans’ charity event last week. And why shouldn’t he be? He got $22.5 million guaranteed, will be playing for the coach who drafted him and is returning to his home state.

Maclin even praised Chip Kelly, saying he believes in his former coach and expects the Eagles to be productive offensively for years to come.

The topic of how the Eagles will replace Maclin is one that will be discussed often between now and draft time. For the second year in a row, the Birds will return to training camp without their leading receiver from the previous year.

A common theory is that wide receivers are somewhat interchangeable in Kelly’s system. Riley Cooper had a career year in 2013, as did DeSean Jackson. And Maclin was never more productive than he was in 2014 playing with Kelly. But he doesn’t buy the notion that Kelly devalues the wide receiver position in his offense.

“I don’t really agree with that,” Maclin said. “I think sometimes people may get that feel, but this is the NFL. You need talent to win. You just can’t plug guys in anywhere and hope to be successful. That’s not how it works in the NFL. Anybody who wins in this league has a scheme that they perfect, and they have players who fit those types of roles. You just can’t plug somebody in because they’re athletic or somebody because they run fast.”

The question of what Kelly is looking for in a wide receiver is a tough one to answer definitively. Many assume height and length are requirements, but there’s not a ton of evidence to support that theory. Kelly said Odell Beckham (5-11) was his favorite player in last year’s draft, and the Eagles selected 5-11 Josh Huff in the third round.

While they didn’t bring Maclin (6-0) back, Kelly clearly liked him and thought he was a scheme fit.

Rather than height, it seems to be strength and physicality that Kelly values. He wants guys who can beat press coverage, win within that 5-yard battle zone at the start of plays and make contested catches. Last year, Kelly referenced 5-9 Brandin Cooks and explained that while Cooks wasn’t tall, he was “rocked up” and could compete against bigger cornerbacks.

While Kelly let Jackson go for nothing and didn’t re-sign Maclin, he spent second- and third-round picks on wide receivers last year. And to be fair, he’s always said he needs talent, often shooting down the scheme argument. So saying he doesn’t value talent at that position is probably a stretch.

“I don’t think he thinks guys are interchangeable,” Maclin said. “I think he knows he needs talent. It’s the NFL. You have to have talent. I think he knows that, and I think he’s gonna get the guys in there to help to win ballgames.”

Wide receiver is certainly in play in the first couple rounds of the draft. But if Kelly doesn’t find a guy he likes early on, it’ll be Jordan Matthews, Cooper and Huff in line to step up in 2015.

Matthews looked good as a rookie, and Huff could take a step forward, but overall this would be a group with plenty of question marks.

One way or another, we should gain more insight into the talent vs. scheme question between now and the end of next season.