Say what you want about the decision to release DeSean Jackson during the offseason. The Philadelphia Eagles did a commendable job of preparing for life without the three-time Pro Bowler at wide receiver.
Zach Ertz appears positioned to enjoy a breakout season at tight end. Darren Sproles is a proven security blanket and weapon coming out of the backfield. Rookie receiver Jordan Matthews projects as an instant upgrade over Jason Avant in the slot. The new production these three players will pump into the offense should go a long way toward supplanting Jackson’s 2013 totals.
That being said, there’s no denying the bulk of the pressure to replace Jackson’s 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns falls squarely on the shoulders of Jeremy Maclin. Of course, the problem with that plan is its dependence on the sixth-year wideout’s health coming off season-erasing ACL surgery.
For what it’s worth, his surgery to repair the ACL was over a year ago, and Maclin didn’t exhibit any signs of being slowed or other complications during the preseason or training camp. However, there is naturally going to be skepticism any time a player is recovering from a major injury.
Especially when that player could hold the keys to the offense’s aerial attack.
Just think back to last year, in the days that followed Maclin crumpling to the turf at the NovaCare Complex. Desperate talk-radio callers and Internet commentators suggested the Eagles run out and sign the likes of Randy Moss, or Chad Johnson or even Terrell Owens to compensate for the loss of talent on the outside—a plan that might’ve been a compelling argument three-to-five years earlier.
And that was the reaction when Jackson was still in Philadelphia. What would the mood be like now if Maclin was suddenly rendered unavailable for the rest of the season after his counterpart skipped town?
Who would be the best bet to take over as the Eagles’ feature receiver in 2014? Matthews, an unproven second-round draft pick? Riley Cooper, a limited athlete who spent three seasons on the Eagles’ bench and was only ever awarded a chance to start in the first place as a result of the injury to Maclin?
Matthews and Cooper are nice complimentary weapons, but neither of them makes for a convincing No. 1 wide receiver right now.
Make no mistake, the issue isn’t whether Maclin has the ability replicate Jackson’s role in the offense, especially with the additional production expected from other players.
Detractors would be quick to point out Maclin has never posted a 1,000-yard receiving season in the NFL, but his 2010 line of 70 receptions, 964 yards and 10 touchdowns is nothing to sneeze at. Given the fact that just about every skill player in Philadelphia’s offense enjoyed a career year under Chip Kelly in his first campaign as head coach, those numbers seem like a good starting point for what the 2009 first-round pick can do in the offense.
Prior to Kelly’s arrival in Philadelphia, Jackson’s season highs were 62 receptions, 1,156 yards and nine touchdowns in 2009. He exceeded totals in receptions and yards by 20 and 176 and managed to match his career-best scoring output.
Obviously, Maclin doesn’t stretch the field quite like Jackson—few receivers do. The idea that Maclin isn’t a deep threat, though, isn’t entirely accurate, either. He posted four receptions of 40 yards or more in 2010 and ’12, good for 10th and 15th in the NFL respectively.
And unlike Jackson, Maclin is a viable target in the end zone. In fact, that’s one area where there’s no comparison. In 2010 alone, Maclin caught seven touchdown passes from inside 20 yards. Jackson has nine red-zone touchdowns for his entire six-year career.
As far as the perception that Maclin is injury prone is concerned, it’s largely unfounded. Prior to the ACL injury, he only missed five games in four years and more than one game in a season just once. That doesn’t guarantee Maclin is the same player coming back from this injury, but he is only 26, and the procedure seems relatively common in professional sports these days.
Still, injuries can happen to anyone—they just better not happen to Maclin this year. Perhaps it’s unfair to lay that kind of unrealistic burden at any player’s feet, but with viable alternatives apparently lacking, the truth is the Eagles offense could struggle without a proven perimeter threat like Maclin.