How the Philadelphia Eagles Can Survive Jeremy Maclin's Injury
Over the last four years, no Philadelphia Eagles player has made as many receptions or caught as many touchdown passes as Jeremy Maclin. DeSean Jackson might be the No. 1 receiver and the center of attention within that unit, but the 25-year-old Maclin has been an extremely reliable and consistent No. 2 option since joining the league in 2009.
Not once has the former first-round pick been held to fewer than 50 catches or 750 yards, but a torn ACL suffered during practice on Saturday means those totals will drop to zero and zero in 2013. How exactly do the already-in-flux Eagles overcome the loss of Maclin?
It will be easier under Chip Kelly than it would have been under Andy Reid
This one's simple: Reid loved to throw, and Kelly loves to run. Philadelphia always ranked in the top half of the league in pass play percentage during Reid's 14-year reign, while Oregon ran the ball significantly more often than it threw it during the Kelly era.
The read-option is a small factor there, but it's still plainly obvious that Kelly really likes to ride his backs. And it just so happens that a healthy LeSean McCoy is one of the best backs in football. Expect his role to increase this year, with Bryce Brown also getting plenty of work in the Philly backfield.
Naturally, as a result, Maclin's level of impact might have dropped off a bit anyway. A team runs a finite number of passing plays, and when that number drops, it's usually fair to assume that your receivers will become less productive.
It's still all about DeSean
Plus, don't forget that Jackson is the main man. The two-time Pro Bowler missed five games in 2012 but was still the Eagles' most productive receiver when healthy. He's also faster and more versatile than Maclin, which could give him an even bigger edge over his fellow receivers in an offense that is expected to emphasize speed and versatility.
This isn't to suggest that the Eagles can survive without Maclin simply because Jackson is a better player. Yes, they'll need two or three quality targets for whomever is throwing passes. But no, they might not need an elite No. 2 option. In this offense, Maclin might not have been a make-or-break player.
Jason Avant is an ideal No. 2
Avant has never received much attention while in the Jackson/Maclin shadow, but the seven-year veteran has 39 career starts and could have the ability to put up the kind of numbers Maclin would have in 2013.
Avant caught all 53 of the catchable passes thrown his way in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and was the only player in the league to go drop-less while being targeted 30 or more times (he was targeted on 71 occasions). That's exactly the kind of reliability you look for in secondary offensive weapons.
The 30-year-old is solid. In six starts last year, he had 22 catches and 298 yards. Prorate that for a season and you've got a 59-catch, 795-yard campaign. That's on the lower edge of Maclin's annual range.
Sleepers get a shot
Avant isn't the only enticing option who could Wally Pipp Maclin in a spoiled contract year. Kelly himself brought in 24-year-old former second-round pick Arrelious Benn via a trade with Tampa Bay earlier this offseason, and Benn looked solid during organized team activities. He has a tough history with injuries and is already hurting early in camp, but if he can find a way to stay healthy, he could eat up some of the productivity lost with Maclin.
Which receiver has the best chance to replace Jeremy Maclin?
Kelly also handpicked Ifeanyi Momah, who at 6'7" is an athletic marvel out of Boston College. Thanks to injuries and NCAA politics, he hasn't played in a game since 2011's season opener, so don't expect the raw product to start from the get-go. However, if Momah can now emerge at a quicker rate, the Maclin injury could wind up serving as somewhat of a blessing in disguise.
There's also Damaris Johnson, who had 256 yards on 19 catches in a reserve role as an undrafted rookie. Considering he averaged a team-high 5.5 yards after the catch while forcing five missed tackles in limited action (per PFF), Johnson could have an opportunity to become a true spark plug with regular reps in 2013.
How he, Momah and Benn perform over the next four weeks will help decide whether any of that comes to fruition.
More two-tight-end sets?
If all else fails, let's not forget that the Eagles brought in one hell of a unique offensive weapon when James Casey was signed earlier this offseason. Another strategy might be to utilize the jack-of-all-trades tight end/H-back with regular starting tight end Brent Celek early and often.
They also used a second-round pick on Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, so there are plenty of receiving options inside. An increased emphasis there would also likely help the running game a bit too.
Ultimately, the offense is still loaded
The Eagles are better with Maclin than without, and there's no such thing as having too many quality weapons, but we've established that there are a lot of talented skill-position players in this offense.
The Eagles have some time here to sit back and experiment. Maybe they just go with the next man up and make no changes to the schemes, or maybe this gets Kelly's juices flowing even further and they discover some things they never would have if not for Maclin's unfortunate injury.
The point is that if they were going to survive with Maclin, they likely still will without him.
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