Despite my gut instinct, I have to admit that I didn't have the courage to make this statement until Eagles aficionado, Tommy Lawlor, scribed a similar question regarding Kevin Curtis' 2007 production. I haven't been biting my tongue, but I have reserved my writing.
I've been thinking this way prior to the Eagles drafting of Jeremy Maclin, but now the deal is sealed in my mind, and I can no longer withhold my feelings. The point is not to belittle Kevin Curtis' contributions or skills, but rather to make a case for the best receiver to be on the field in their best position.
Curtis caught 77 passes for 1,110 yards and six touchdowns in 2007. He is the first and only Eagles' receiver to produce over 1,000 yards since Terrell Owens in 2004. I appreciate what he did for the team that season, but those statistics are considerably anomalous and misleading.
In 2007, 20 percent of Curtis' yards and 50 percent of his touchdowns came in one game against the terrible Detroit Lions defense. He never dominated like that again. His other three scores and biggest games came against the Jets, the Seahawks and the Saints—none of whom boasted strong secondaries that season.
Curtis had three 100-yard-plus performances against the Lions, Jets and Seahawks. Fortunately for Curtis' numbers in the Jets game, he scored on a 75-yard pass that occurred as the result of a missed tackle (the defender essentially fell down).
I would argue that Curtis' 2007 production was more of a credit to Donovan McNabb's abilities and determination along with opportunities to match up with weak secondaries.
I'm obviously not saying the Eagles should cut Curtis, I'm just observing that he's not a natural wide receiver (note the word "wide") and the Eagles now have players to fill that role.
Consider this—who else could McNabb have targeted in '07?
Prior to the draft, I was resolute in my desire to see Hank Baskett starting at wide receiver opposite of DeSean Jackson. I never understood why Reid didn't give Baskett playing time in 2007, or why he didn't get an opportunity to field more game time repetitions in 2008.
Hank Baskett has been one of the most consistent producers at wide receiver on a per play basis. He offers great size and big play ability. He would also be a fantastic complement to DeSean Jackson's skill set. Speaking with former Eagles defensive end, Hugh Douglas last season on 610 WIP, we agreed on Baskett's consistency and under-utilization.
Baskett is more of a natural wide receiver than Kevin Curtis. Read my analysis of Hank Baskett (also available on eagles.sportsscribes.net).
He has the speed (4.5-second 40), the size (6'4", 220 pounds) and the vertical leaping ability (39.5", 7' high jumper). He can fight off of defenders with his strength, fight for the ball in the air, and requires less separation to be open because of his height and the associated science known as line of sight.
The draft has since impacted my thinking.
It's bittersweet for me to crown Jeremy Maclin with the starting receiver position over my beloved Baskett and Curtis. Nonetheless, it's time for Maclin to shine in 2009.
The myth of rookies not producing at wide receiver is just that—a myth. Most of the top receivers in the NFL, especially those drafted in the first round, have had excellent rookie seasons. This fact is even more true when rookie receivers are paired with veteran quarterbacks.
At Mizzou, Maclin was sensational, outproducing Michael Crabtree in his senior year. He lined up all over the field and with every touch, Maclin threatened to score. Read my analysis of Jeremy Maclin (also available on eagles.sportsscribes.net).
So what should Andy Reid do with Curtis?
Curtis is at his best working out of the slot, his original position. He could easily produce Wes Welker-like results with players like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin split out wide, as they will demand the attention of the defensive secondaries.
With a standard three-receiver formation of Jackson, Maclin, and Curtis, Donovan McNabb would have more game breaking options than he has ever had. These receivers all have the potential to turn shorter, high percentage passes into breakaway gains.
Still, Jason Avant was a great slot receiver for the Eagles in 2008. He is not a game breaking threat, but his physical nature and sure handedness makes him a great possession receiver in the clutch.
While I am avidly in opposition of the junior football philosophy of platooning wide receivers in the NFL, I would consider a situational rotation of Curtis and Avant in the slot as reasonable.
With Maclin, Jackson, Curtis, Avant, and Baskett all figuring to be worthy of starting at the NFL level, I have tried to draw a best-use scenario for these receivers.
I've done so by completely ignoring Reggie Brown, who I can't help but feel is still a quality player. Eagles fans completely disregarded an amazing catch that he made against the Redskins when he landed inches short of the goal line as the seconds ran off of the clock in the vigorously-contested loss. Despite coming up short, the effort was fantastic, and the catch was even more impressive.
Brown may have battled injury last season, but he still has some game left in him, and he has been effective in previous years. In training camp, he will be fighting for a job against rookie prospect Brandon Gibson, a player not often mentioned. Gibson was considered a second-round prospect in the 2008 draft before returning to Washington for his senior season.
To conclude my rant, I believe the best trio that Andy Reid could put on the field would be DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Hank Baskett with all three rotating in and out of the slot.
Rotating Curtis with Avant on third-down passing plays in four receiver sets and spread formations would optimize McNabb's receiving arsenal when a clutch play from the receivers is needed and splitting out Brent Celek or Cornelius Ingram doesn't offer enough speed.
It's going to be a difficult decision for Andy Reid to make heading into 2009. I can only hope that he sticks with his depth chart and that the Baltimore and Cincinnati games shed some light on the destructive nature of platooning receivers on the quarterback-to-receiver rhythm and chemistry.
Feel free to disagree. In the end, I would love nothing more than to see Kevin Curtis prove me wrong and post a huge season. This is the best problem the Eagles could have as long as it does not cause a distraction.
More Analysis from Leo Pizzini at: http://eagles.sportsscribes.net.
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