Philadelphia Eagles: Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
Chip Kelly’s most controversial decision as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles came when he released three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson was coming off career-best numbers (82 receptions for 1,332 yards) and had played a major role in the development of quarterback Nick Foles.
The actual decision for releasing Jackson likely combines an element of his salary, his less-than-ideal frame and his apparent defiance to the Kelly way of ball. Kelly made sure to replenish the position in the NFL draft, spending both his second- and third-round picks on wide receivers.
The organization also re-signed both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, the former to a one-year deal and the latter to a five-year contract. Still, Cooper is the only receiver on the roster Foles has played with for more than a few games, and it’s difficult to envision that Jackson won’t be missed.
Most teams usually go with five to six receivers on their official 53-man roster, which means the Eagles will have to cut at least half of the 13 wide receivers they currently employ. Here are the eight most likely candidates to make the 2014 team.
Wide Receiver No. 8: Damaris Johnson
You could make a case for a handful of players as the eighth receiver on the current depth chart. And considering the Philadelphia Eagles will likely keep five or six receivers, it really doesn’t matter who is this low on the depth chart.
The team has 13 receivers on its current roster.
It’s logical to assume Quron Pratt and Kadron Boone are buried on the depth chart, seeing as they’re undrafted rookie free agents. Ifeanyi Momah was a training camp favorite last year, but he showed little in August to warrant anything more than a spot on the practice squad.
Will Murphy is a former Oregon receiver who played under Kelly, and B.J. Cunningham was a 2012 sixth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins who hasn’t latched on with a team yet.
Damaris Johnson will have the edge on those players, as he’s been on the roster before. He has punt-returning experience, even taking one 98 yards to the house the previous season. Johnson saw his playing time fade last year, going from 235 snaps in ’12 to just 53 in ’13, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Johnson will need to win the team’s punt-returning job in preseason to secure his spot. Otherwise, it doesn’t look like he will make next year’s 53-man roster.
Wide Receiver No. 7: Jeff Maehl
At one point last year, Jeff Maehl had climbed as high as the team’s fourth receiver. He played very sparingly, though—Jackson, Cooper and Jason Avant all saw action in over 800 snaps, while Maehl played in just 129, per Pro Football Focus.
Still, Maehl remains a long shot to make this year’s team. He’s probably anywhere from sixth to seventh on the current depth chart, and four of those players are locks to make the roster. Maehl won’t serve as a punt returner, which means he will need to work his way onto the team as a possession receiver.
Wide Receiver No. 6: Arrelious Benn
Arrelious Benn still hasn’t played yet with the Philadelphia Eagles. A former second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Benn signed a deal with Kelly last offseason but tore his ACL in the summer.
He was released and then re-signed to a lesser contract that will allow him to fight for a roster spot. Benn has 59 career NFL catches but just four since 2012. Considering the Eagles spent both their second- and third-round picks on receivers, Benn will have a tough job securing a spot on the roster.
His advantage is his size, as he’s 6’2”, 220 pounds, and could be an effective player from the slot if he can stay healthy.
Wide Receiver No. 5: Brad Smith
Kelly seems to love Brad Smith, namely for his versatility, so expect Smith to win a spot on the roster once the season rolls around.
Still, he has the ability to line up as a wide receiver, H-back, Wildcat quarterback and punt returner, and that could be enough to get him onto the 53-man roster.
Wide Receiver No. 4: Josh Huff
Josh Huff is all but locked in as at least the fourth receiver on the Philadelphia Eagles. To start, he was a third-round pick and attended the University of Oregon, where he played under Kelly.
Huff will begin the season as the backup slot receiver, since Jordan Matthews is penciled in as the starting slot receiver. But look for Matthews to push for Cooper’s snaps on the outside, which will open up opportunities for Huff in the slot.
Huff was a two-time honorable mention All-Pac 12 pick and tied the Oregon record for single-season touchdown catches (12). He’s a good player in gaining yards after the catch and can return kicks. His spot on the roster is assured, and he should see substantial playing time, especially if one of the top three receivers gets injured.
Wide Receiver No. 3: Jordan Matthews
Right now, Matthews is entrenched as the No. 3 receiver behind Cooper and Maclin. But neither of those two should be looking over their shoulder, because Matthews will be coming for their playing time sooner rather than later.
Matthews enters training camp as a second-round rookie who will be playing primarily out of the slot position in 2014. But he offers a lot in terms of physical stature, and he could produce immediately. Matthews is 6’3”, 212 pounds, and he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash. He led all wide receivers with 23 reps on the bench press.
Matthews was an extremely productive player at Vanderbilt, finishing as the SEC’s all-time leader in career receptions and receiving yards. And he’s been nothing short of spectacular thus far at OTAs.
In limited media access to OTAs so far, Jordan Matthews has looked like the best WR on the team, in my opinion, and it hasn't been close.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) June 10, 2014
Look for Matthews to play extensively as early as Week 1, and there’s a good chance he leads all Eagles players in receiving yards in 2014.
Wide Receiver No. 2: Riley Cooper
After a breakout 2013 campaign, Cooper was rewarded with a five-year, $25 million contract to remain with the Philadelphia Eagles. A breakdown of the deal shows it’s more of a two-year deal, but still, Cooper will enter ’14 as a starting wide receiver in one of the more prolific offenses in the league.
That is, assuming he can hold off scorching hot rookie, Matthews. Cooper can’t compete with Matthews’ speed, but what he does have is an impressive stature at 6’4” and over 220 pounds. Last year, Cooper demonstrated a near-uncanny relationship with Foles.
The duo combined on the highest passer rating in the league between a quarterback and a receiver, and a two-game span in the middle of the season was largely responsible for Cooper’s new deal with the team. During those contests, Cooper caught five touchdowns, including three in a rout against the Oakland Raiders.
Aside from that, Cooper caught just three scores in 14 games, and his 47 receptions tied for 51st among all receivers, despite Cooper playing in the 12th-most snaps for his position. He is a good blocker, and if he can continue to win jump balls, he will see plenty of snaps. But the torch may be passed to Matthews sooner than expected.
Wide Receiver No. 1: Jeremy Maclin
For the first time in his career, Maclin enters the season as the team’s No. 1 receiver. A first-round pick in 2009, Maclin has been productive as a No. 2 receiver, but he hasn’t yet reached the 1,000-yard plateau.
Last year, he missed the entire campaign with a torn ACL, which led to Cooper’s breakout season. The surprise release of Jackson elevates Maclin to the No. 1 receiver role. Maclin is coming off a serious injury, but he’s in an offense that brought out the best in Jackson and Cooper. If Kelly can do the same with Maclin, Maclin will be able to cash in when he hits the open market next spring.
It will be more difficult for all the receivers without Jackson requiring a deep safety, and Maclin’s ability to still put up good numbers will be tested. Expect more high-percentage passes from Foles, which should lead to increased numbers for players like Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles, and in turn, may hurt Maclin’s production.
If Maclin can come close to 1,000 yards, Philadelphia Eagles fans should be happy with his production. If he can't stay healthy, that will put much more pressure on Cooper and Matthews.
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