Offense: Jeremy Maclin
Philadelphia’s offense is a likely top-five unit again, and it will undoubtedly finish inside the top 10.
However, the unit could prove nearly unstoppable if Maclin finally lives up to his full potential this season—or even comes close to DeSean Jackson’s 2013 numbers.
It certainly isn't out of the question. Just about every offensive skill player enjoyed a career year of sorts in Chip Kelly’s first season on the sidelines, so why would Maclin not experience the same bump in production? That would mean improving on his 2010 line of 70 receptions, 964 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Jackson set personal bests in ‘13 with 82 receptions for 1,332 yards, and he matched another with nine touchdowns. His previous highs were 62, 1,156 and nine in ’09.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the torn ACL that knocked Maclin out last year, the obvious concerns being he’s not completely recovered or is prone to more injuries.
Health will be important for Maclin, especially considering the uncertain depth at wide receiver.
Assuming Maclin does manage to stay out of the infirmary, I see him exceeding expectations—perhaps even to the tune of his first Pro Bowl invite.
With the additions of Sproles and Matthews, and the continued growth of Ertz, if Maclin can pull off somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 yards with eight to 10 touchdowns, Philly’s offense can be flat-out scary.
Defense: Malcolm Jenkins
The only major upgrade to the defense came in the form of Jenkins at safety, so it stands to reason the unit’s rise or fall is tied to how he performs.
Sure, young players such as Cox, Kendricks and Boykin could take the proverbial next step in 2013, but that’s liable to be offset to a degree by the decline of veterans like Cole, Ryans and Williams.
Jenkins’ time in New Orleans has been met with mixed reviews. On one hand, he was a starter for the Super Bowl champion Saints as a rookie in 2009 and just last season played a role in the league’s No. 2 pass defense.
Then again, he’s never been much of a playmaker, one reason the Saints went with Jairus Byrd in the offseason.
Jenkins has just 4.5 sacks, six interceptions and six forced fumbles in five seasons. There have also been battles with durability—Jenkins has never started 16 games—nor is he the surest tackler.
Still, the Eagles stand to be greatly improved with Jenkins. Patrick Chung was nothing short of abysmal in that spot last season. There’s no way his replacement could do worse.
Plus, there’s reason to believe Jenkins might benefit from the change of scenery. The Eagles utilize their safeties in quite a bit of man coverage, something the converted cornerback out of Ohio State is very comfortable doing.
Perhaps a scheme that is suited, if not designed, to his strengths will bring out the best in Jenkins.
That part remains to be seen, but there’s no question the guy can play, which is a lot more than what can be said of his predecessor.
If Jenkins can acclimate to a new defense, he can be more than just another stopgap in Philadelphia’s secondary. Who knows, maybe he could finally live up to that first-round pick the Saints spent.
Special Teams: Cody Parkey
Let’s face it: Parkey is on a short leash. The Eagles will be scouring the waiver wire for a new kicker in a hurry if this kid misses so much as a field-goal try or two.
That being said, the rookie has an opportunity to turn a glaring weakness into an area of strength.
Henery was allowed to attempt all of five field goals from 50 yards by two separate Eagles coaching staffs in three NFL seasons, while Parkey was 2-of-2 from 50 yards in one preseason game. That kind of range is a weapon.
Parkey could help Philadelphia in the game within the game as well—the field-position battle. Henery never finished better than 20th in the NFL in touchback rate, while Parkey led the nation in total touchbacks as a senior at Auburn.
Preventing the opponent from returning a kick is another valuable tool to have.
You might not want to get too excited yet, because Parkey seriously could be gone and forgotten in a month if he doesn’t pan out.
Then again, how could you not feel better about the kicking situation now that the Birds have somebody with an NFL leg?