Philadelphia Eagles: McNabb Finally Has Receivers Competing for Spots

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Philadelphia Eagles: McNabb Finally Has Receivers Competing for Spots
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Throughout his career, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has faced his fair share of criticism.

When the Eagles selected him with the No. 2 pick overall in 1999, he was booed by fans who wanted Ricky Williams instead. His controversy with Rush Limbaugh shed light on the issue of African-American quarterbacks in the league. Even this past November, he dealt with criticism after head coach Andy Reid benched him in the second half during a 36-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

If he fails to win a Super Bowl by the time he decides to call it quits, McNabb’s legacy in Philadelphia may be remembered for the five NFC Championship game appearances in eight years without a championship. However, he should be considered along with the group of wide receivers he has played with over his career before he gets judged.

Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison. Steve Young had Jerry Rice. Troy Aikman was lucky enough to have Michael Irvin at wide receiver and Emmith Smith at running back.

Even though he played less than two seasons with the Eagles, Terrell Owens may always be seen as the best wide receiver McNabb ever played with. Eagles fans may not want to believe it, but it’s true. McNabb and Owens had the potential to be one of those dynamic duos that won a Super Bowl together.

Unfortunately, that never happened.

In 21 games, Owens caught 132 passes for 1,963 yards and 20 touchdowns. He and McNabb had the potential to become a pair similar to Manning and Harrison.

Besides Owens, McNabb has never played with a truly dominant No. 1 receiver during his career. Despite this, he has still managed to throw for 29,320 yards and 194 touchdowns during his 10-year career. Looking at the Eagles leading wide receiver each year, the numbers are impressive for McNabb considering which receivers he has had to work with. Look at the Eages’ leading receivers each season since 2000:

2000: Charles Johnson, 56 receptions, 642 yards, and 7 touchdowns

2001: James Thrash, 63 receptions, 833 yards, and 8 touchdowns

2002: Todd Pinkston, 40 receptions, 798 yards, and 7 touchdowns

2003: Todd Pinkston, 36 receptions, 575 yards and 2 touchdowns

2004: Terrell Owens, 77 receptions, 1,200 yards, and 14 touchdowns

2005: Terrell Owens, 47 receptions, 763 yards, and 6 touchdowns (only played in 7 games)

2006: Reggie Brown, 46 receptions, 816 yards, and 8 touchdowns

2007: Kevin Curtis, 77 receptions, 1,110 yards, and 6 touchdowns

2008: DeSean Jackson, 62 receptions, 912 yards, and 2 touchdowns

Owens and Curtis are the only wide receivers to record more than 1,000 yards in a season during the McNabb era. Other receivers that McNabb has played with through his career include James Thrash (2001-2003) and Freddie Mitchell (2001-2004). Throughout his career, McNabb has been able to post solid numbers considering the wide receivers he has worked with.

Ever since the departure of Owens, one of the main topics surrounding the Eagles’ organization has been about Donovan McNabb and how he needs a true No. 1 wide receiver. Even during the offseason, McNabb made it clear to the media that he would see what moves the team made during the offseason before making a decision about a contract extension.

Over the last couple of years, rumors have swirled around the league about the possibility of the Eagles landing a big-name wide receiver. No matter how many rumors have swirled around, the matter of fact is the team has never been able to acquire that top wide receiver McNabb always wanted.

As much as the Eagles may have wanted to acquire Anquan Boldin or Braylon Edwards, they may not need them as much as people think.

As crazy as this may sound, the Eagles enter the 2009 season with loads of talent at the wide receiver spot. They may not be near the top of the list as far as best receivers in the league, but there are a number of players with a level of talent that McNabb has always wanted.

Some players have the potential to be a No. 1 wide receiver. Some players have the potential for playing a smaller role. Either way, these next couple months should be interesting for the Eagles as a handful of wide receivers will be competing for spots in the team’s lineup.

 

DeSean Jackson

Last year, the Eagles selected DeSean Jackson out of California with the 45th overall pick in the draft. Even though he only caught two touchdown passes, he led the team in receiving yards with 962.

His explosiveness is a perfect fit for the team’s West Coast offense. Not only does he make a great fit at wide receiver, but he’s a punt returner too. After last season, it’s not even a question whether Jackson will make the Eagles’ roster this season.

The only question is whether he has what it takes to be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver in only his second season with the team.

 

Jeremy Maclin

In this year’s draft, the Eagles were hoping to draft running back Knowshon Moreno. The former Georgia star would be a perfect fit to play behind Brian Westbrook, with the possibility of becoming the main back in the future. Instead, Moreno was selected by the Broncos with the 12th overall pick.

At first, fans were disappointed after all the hype was built up about Moreno. However, little did they know the availability of a certain player that would come later in the first round.

One of the biggest surprises in this year’s draft was the first wide receiver selected. For months, former Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree was seen as the player in the draft at his position. When the Raiders selected Darrius Heyward-Bey out of Maryland as the first wide receiver taken in the draft, it threw everyone off.

With the 21st pick in the draft, the Eagles found themselves with an opportunity to draft a standout wide receiver from Missouri in Maclin. Not taking any chances, the Eagles decided to trade-up with the Cleveland Browns and select Maclin at No. 19.

Maclin appears to be a mirror image of Jackson and has the potential to be one of the biggest offensive threats for the Eagles. In just two seasons at Missouri, he caught 182 passes for 2,315 yards and 22 touchdowns. He may not be considered a No.1 wide receiver at the beginning of the season, but the potential is there.

Don’t forget, not many people expected Jackson to have the type of impact he had at wide receiver last season.

 

Kevin Curtis

In 2007, the Eagles struck gold in free agency by signing former St. Louis Ram Kevin Curtis to a six-year, $32 million deal. At the time, the city of Philadelphia was excited since Curtis was the biggest named receiver on the team since the departure of Terrell Owens.

With the acquisition of Curtis, many questioned whether he was capable of being a No. 1 receiver. In his first four seasons with the Rams, he was always considered a No. 3 receiver playing behind Tory Holt and Issac Bruce. He would put up solid numbers from time to time, but never really had the experience as the top receiver.

In his first full season with the Eagles, Curtis reached all expectations. He started more games that season (16) than he did in his entire career to that point. His 1,110 receiving yards and six touchdowns gave hope that the team had finally found the No. 1 receiver they had always been looking for.

Once again, Curtis has the potential to be the team’s No. 1 receiver coming into the season. However, a sports hernia injury at the beginning of last season not only caused him to sit out the first couple of games, but it allowed Jackson to emerge as a rookie.

Curtis played in just nine games last season. His numbers were disappointing, as he only caught 33 balls for 390 yards and two touchdowns.

As long as he stays healthy, Curtis should have a major impact for the Eagles’ offense. However, whether he will be considered a No. 1 or No. 2 wide receiver should be determined over the next couple of months. If Jackson follows up with a successful sophomore campaign and Maclin has a successful rookie season, Curtis may see himself in a similar situation from his days with the Rams as a No. 3 wide receiver.

 

Reggie Brown

After his first two seasons with the Eagles, there were high expectations for Brown. Two years later, those expectations have declined, and Brown appears to be on the verge of trying to find playing time.

From 2005 to 2006, Brown caught 89 receptions for 1,387 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last season, Brown had his worst season in his career.

In the 10 games he played in last season, he only had 18 receptions for 252 yards and a touchdown. The main statistic that sticks out is of the 10 games he played, he only started in three of them. In the three seasons prior to 2008, he started 40 of 48 games he played in.

Brown struggled to find playing time last season. After the Eagles' drafting of Maclin in this year’s draft, he could be struggling to find playing time once again. Not only will he be fighting for playing time, but he may be battling for a roster spot.

 

Hank Baskett

Out of all of the players on the Eagles' roster, nobody may have more of an interesting story than Hank Basket.

After attending the University of New Mexico, he signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent. Not too long after, he was traded to the Eagles for wide receiver Billy McMullen.

Baskett has never been the dominant receiver in the NFL we have seen in Terrell Owens or Larry Fitzgerald. Instead, he has always been known for having that big game once every blue moon.

Baskett’s rookie campaign will always be remembered for his miraculous game against the Dallas Cowboys. Week Five of the 2006 season was the first time Terrell Owens returned to the City of Brotherly Love since his so called “divorce” with the Eagles. He wanted nothing more than to march into Philadelphia and beat his former team on its home turf. The city of Philadelphia wanted to defeat the Cowboys more than anything in the world.

While trailing 21-17 in the third quarter, the Eagles found themselves deep in their own territory at the 13-yard line. On the first play of the drive, McNabb dropped back and threw a bomb down the field to Baskett. A broken tackle and 87 yards later, Baskett had his first career touchdown. The Eagles eventually won the game 38-24.

In his three-year career, Baskett has caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards and six touchdowns. He finds himself in a similar situation to Brown. Since the Eagles have drafted two wide receivers early on the last two seasons, there may be fewer spots on the roster for wide receivers such as Brown, Baskett, and Jason Avant.

The advantage for Baskettt is that his numbers were better than Brown’s last season. Of the 15 games he played in last season, he started six of them. He made 33 receptions for 440 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Jason Avant

Baskett and Avant are more similar than most people realize. Both wide receivers joined the Eagles in 2006 as rookies and have seen a decent amount of playing time each season.

Avant will be entering his fourth season as a Philadelphia Eagle. The former Michigan Wolverine was selected in the fourth round after finishing his college career with 120 receptions, 1,470 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns.

Avant didn’t have that much of an impact with the Eagles in his rookie campaign. In the eight games he played in, he caught just seven passes, which resulted in 68 yards and a touchdown.

Over the course of the next two seasons, he played in 30 games. He started 11 of them and made 55 receptions for 644 yards and four touchdowns.

Donovan McNabb enjoyed the presence of Avant during the 2008 season, when Avant converted 13 of 15 catches for first downs on third-down plays. Whether this statistic will be good enough to keep him on the team this season will be determined in the next couple of months.

After playing most of his career without a star wide receiver, Donovan McNabb all of a sudden has a ton of weapons to throw to. If Jackson, Maclin, and Curtis can stay healthy, McNabb may have one of the best triple-threats at wide receiver in the league. Not to mention he also has Brian Westbrook, who at times is considered another wide receiver for the team.

The wide receiver position will be very competitive for the Eagles over the next couple of weeks. Jackson, Maclin, and Curtis should be a lock. As far as Brown, Baskett, and Avant go, it appears the three of these guys will have a lot of competing to do for playing time, if not a roster spot.

"Dan Parzych covers the Eagles for NFLTouchdown.com. You can view his work here"

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