The Philadelphia Eagles have rolled the dice in a big way by parting ways with their top receiver, DeSean Jackson. Philadelphia had the league's No. 2-rated offense last season, finishing fourth in points scored. When that offense was operated by new franchise quarterback Nick Foles, it was even better.
The Eagles will likely miss Jackson from time to time. It's impossible not to. We're talking about a guy who caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013. However, there's also an argument to be made that those career-high stats came because Chip Kelly's system brings out the best in offensive weapons.
Ideally, a team should get better each year, rather than simply maintaining the status quo. However, the Eagles won the NFC East and were considered a possible Super Bowl contender last season. Therefore, simply finding a way to avoid taking a step backward might be all that is necessary here, especially if the locker room is indeed happier and healthier sans Jackson.
On paper, Jackson is replaceable.
Remember, this team didn't have Jeremy Maclin last season. He was recovering from a torn ACL. By the time the Eagles open the 2014 season, Maclin will have had 13 months to rehab that knee. In this day and age, that's plenty of time to fully recuperate.
Working as Jackson's sidekick in 2012, Maclin had 69 grabs, 857 yards and seven touchdowns. How much better might he be in a featured role outside in Kelly's offense, especially now that Riley Cooper has emerged?
Maclin might not be capable of fully replacing Jackson, but don't forget about the acquisition of Darren Sproles, who should be viewed as a weapon in the passing game more so than in the running game.
Since 2011, Sproles has more catches, yards and touchdowns than any other back in football, and it's not even close.
|Most prolific pass-catching running backs since 2011|
|1. Darren Sproles||Saints||232||1981||16|
|2. Ray Rice||Ravens||195||1503||4|
|3. Matt Forte||Bears||170||1424||4|
|4. Pierre Thomas||Saints||166||1292||5|
|5. LeSean McCoy||Eagles||154||1227||8|
|6. Chris Johnson||Titans||135||995||4|
|Pro Football Reference|
You'll notice that LeSean McCoy is fifth on that list. With Brent Celek still a steady presence at tight end and 2013 second-round pick Zach Ertz looking like a keeper, the Eagles have six very strong pass-catching options entering 2014—two at wide receiver, two at running back and two at tight end.
I know things aren't this cut and dry, but let's suppose Maclin and Sproles both put up the same numbers they had in their last full seasons, respectively. That would amount to 140 catches, 1,461 yards and nine touchdowns. Plus, Maclin will be a No. 1 this time and Sproles also contributes to the running game.
|Last full season|
|Pro Football Reference|
Obviously the difference is that Jackson takes up only one spot on the field with numbers that are nearly as strong as the combination of Maclin and Sproles, who take up two spots. However, if both can improve in their initial season with Kelly, the Eagles might not miss a beat on offense.
Finally, don't forget about the draft. The Eagles might not be done adding weapons, which would be smart, especially considering Maclin's knee is still a small concern. This year's draft is loaded with talented wide receivers ready to make an immediate impact.
It's not as though Philly has a lot of holes elsewhere, so it wouldn't surprise anyone to see the Eagles take a receiver in Round 1 or 2. Blue-chippers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans might be long gone before they're on the clock with the 22nd pick, but beyond that there are plenty of intriguing options.
Oregon State playmaker Brandin Cooks ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine. He had a ridiculous 128 catches, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013.
Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU was one tenth of a second slower, which is still scary fast. He also had eight touchdowns and 19.6 yards per catch last year in the best conference in college football.
Kelly likes speed, but he also has a thing for size. At 6'5", 240 pounds, Kelvin Benjamin is the most impressive physical specimen in this class. The mismatches would be wild.
Take Maclin, Sproles and Cooper and throw in one of those guys, or even someone from the next tier, and it's easier to understand why the Eagles may have felt Jackson was disposable, even fully replaceable.