The Eagles' wide receivers are the talk of the town, and it's finally for a good reason. With Kevin Curtis, Desean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles have three wide receivers with sub 4.4 40-yard dash times. All three can get deep, and all three can make plays after the catch. In addition, the Eagles have two possession receivers in Jason Avant and Hank Baskett, and one wild card in Reggie Brown.
Let's start with the Eagles' best returning receiver: Desean Jackson. Jackson had over 900 yards receiving last year, and has been working on getting stronger. Jackson has speed that demands almost constant double teams.
He can get deep on anybody, even Terrence Newman, the Cowboys' big, speedy corner, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, arguably the fastest cornerback (if not player) in the NFL. I expect Jackson to go for over 1000 yards with 5 TD's this year. The key will be his strength.
Jackson is often compared to the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, another 5'9" outside receiver. Steve Smith weighs 185 lbs (Jackson weighed 170) and has a mean streak about him. He goes up and fights for the ball, challenging bigger cornerbacks, and is able to beat press coverage with his quickness and wiry build.
The good news is, Jackson has already had greater success than Smith at the same point in his career; if he can increase his toughness, Jackson should be a dynamic number 1 receiver.
Next I will talk about Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles' flashy new rookie wide receiver. He's been compared to Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, and it's easy to see why. At 6'1", 200 lbs, Maclin is the same size as Wayne and possesses gamebreaking speed.
Not only will he contribute as a deep threat, but I think Maclin's athleticism and size will make him a threat in the red zone as well as as a possession receiver going over the middle and running outs on the sidelines. THe Eagles will probably also give him plenty of quick slants that will allow him to make people miss after the catch.
I think Maclin should start on the outside opposite Jackson because of his size advantage over Kevin Curtis. He should be great as a deep threat, and if Jackson sees a lot of double teams, expect Maclin to make some big plays.
I think Maclin will also see some plays in the slot to create mismatches, but I think he's an outside receiver with the potential to be a number 1, and they need to play him on the outside to get him to stay on the right learning curve.
Kevin Curtis is the oldest Eagles receiver. He's got speed (not to beat a dead horse or anything), quickness, and intelligence. He's a decent deep threat, but I like his route-running and ability to make plays after the catch.
So, I think he should primarily be in the slot, used similarly to Wes Welker (Curtis is actually bigger and faster than Welker). I would take Curtis in a matchup with pretty much any nickel back or safety in the league (maybe not Ed Reed), and certainly any linebacker.
I think Maclin, Curtis, and even Jackson will all see time in the slot.
Another guy who will see quite a bit of action in the slot is Jason Avant. At 6'0", 200 lbs, Avant is a solidly built receiver. He's not very fast, but he's intelligent, runs great routes, and has amazing hands.
He made a ton of big third-down catches last year, and became a favored target for Donovan McNabb. Expect him to continue to grow and make key catches. He'll be an unsung hero among some more flashy players, but Avant will be a key guys who defenses will often lose among all the speed the Eagles have.
Next we have Hank Baskett. Baskett has nice size (6'4"), deceptive speed, and a hot wife. He has steadily improved each year. I expect Baskett to get on the field in the red zone, and I think he could be a situational threat.
He was a long jumper in college, and can beat pretty much any secondary player for a jump ball (again, Ed Reed comes to mind as a possible exception). Baskett was signed to a one-year deal, so he clearly fits into the Eagles' plans this year. Expect 400-500 yards, but a few touchdowns, maybe as many as seven.
REggie Brown is the unknown. He says he has the motivation to come back and start, but I just don't see it. Even in his really good year in 2007, he never showed the skills to be a true No. 1.
He's a decent player. He's got good, but not great speed, good, but not great size, and his hands are inconsistent.
He'll get in situationally and shows that we have great depth, but I don't see him beating out Maclin, Curtis, or Jackson, and Avant was a model of consistency last year, the antithesis to Brown's career so far. I expect Brown to be trade bait.
I also expect plenty of packages to see either double tight ends or double halfbacks. Expect Brent Celek to be used as a reliable security blanket (similar to the way Chad Lewis was used). He should get 50 catches this year.
Cornelius Ingram will be used in some formations, and he has the speed and size to create dangerous mismatches, but I think 2010 is when he'll really make a big impact. Still, I expect him to get a couple of touchdown catches. He's just too much of a physical beast to keep off the field.
McNabb likes going to tight ends (Chad Lewis was the Eagles' leading receiver a few times), and I think Celek's reliability and Ingram's explosiveness will lead to solid production from the position.
The Eagles have three running backs who can catch passes. Lesean McCoy and Brian Westbrook possess similar traits: great hands, quickness, and home run ability on any given play. I also expect Leonard Weaver to get in on the action.
He was a tight end coming out of college, and has pretty good athleticism and hands for a fullback. He can be a reliable, sneaky target on passing plays. Washington has used Mike Sellers like this at times, and I think Weaver is more athletically gifted than Sellers.
The Eagles have plenty of options in the passing game. They have deep threats, underneath guys, and some bigger targets. I expect Donovan McNabb to have a great year. My initial projection would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 4000 yards, 25+ touchdowns, and less than 15 interceptions.