Philadelphia Eagles: Strengths and Weaknesses of Top Offensive Players
We all know there is a lockout and, thus, not a ton to talk about.
So I decided to take a look at the top offensive weapons for the Eagles and try to see where there is room for improvement for each guy this year.
I have picked Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and Jason Avant for this project.
WR Jason Avant
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Strengths: Andy Reid has always praised Jason Avant's hands. Although he dropped a couple easy passes last year, I think Avant does have good hands. He also is a smart player who does not make a ton of mistakes. His route running is solid, but not great. He does go across the middle, which is a nice asset to have.
Weaknesses: Avant lacks the speed to really be a huge threat. He does not run away from anyone or break many tackles. He is not elusive—once he catches the ball, he lacks the ability to make people miss. Most importantly, despite having good hands, he struggles to get open due to a lack of speed and size. When a cornerback gets physical with Avant, he seems to disappear.
Overall prognosis: Honestly, Avant is not a bad player, but I believe he will not be an Eagle too much longer. With Riley Cooper up and coming, I think the best thing for the Eagles would be if Cooper beat Avant out within the next two years for that third receiver slot.
TE Brent Celek
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Strengths: Brent Celek is the ultimate team player and he will do whatever is asked of him without complaining. That was evident last year as Celek became a much smaller part of the offense, partially due to the fact that the offensive line struggled so badly that he had to stay in and block a lot more.
Celek has good hands for a tight end. He can pull off a big play over the middle because he has good size. He is also a very smart player, and his awareness is excellent. He stretches for first downs and rumbles down the field. It seems like Celek always knows the situation and the best way to react to it.
Weaknesses: Although his blocking improved tremendously last year, I still think Celek needs to get better at blocking, especially against quicker defensive linemen or when he is supposed to help with blitzes. The Eagles struggled against the blitz last season. Celek seemed to disappear at times last year, although that was due to the poor offensive line play and the fact he stayed in blocking. Celek is not the fastest guy in the world, but for a tight end, he has average speed. I would like to see the Eagles work him into the offense more in 2011.
Prognosis: Celek is a young tight end and he will likely be the Eagles starting tight end for the foreseeable future (the next three years or more). If he can improve his blocking and the Eagles OL improves, we may see him return to his 2009 form, when he had a really solid pass-catching season.
WR Jeremy Maclin
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Strengths: Jeremy Maclin is a solid all-around wide receiver. Even though he does not get the recognition of DeSean Jackson, Maclin is probably the better receiver. Maclin is not as fast as Jackson, but he does have very good speed. He also runs a lot better routes than Jackson and uses the entire field well. Maclin has good hands and he does not drop many passes. He also has the ability to get open and he is a threat anywhere on the field.
Although the Eagles don't use him as much as Jackson in the deep passing game, Maclin has shown he is capable of stretching the field when asked to do so. Maclin also has elusiveness and blocks well down the field.
Weaknesses: It is hard to find a lot of weaknesses to Maclin's game. He does struggle against larger, physical cornerbacks, so adding a little bit of muscle would likely help him. I like the chemistry he developed with Michael Vick, and hopefully the two can continue to build on that in the future. He is inexperienced, which is not really a weakness, but it is something to point out. I think he just needs to continue to develop his route-running skills and he will become an elite receiver.
Prognosis: Maclin may be the most underrated WR in the NFL. I love Maclin's game and I think he is one of the top all-around receivers in the league. Maclin will be an Eagle for a long time and I believe he will continue to improve. He will be a Pro Bowl-caliber player in the near future, maybe even next season.
WR DeSean Jackson
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Strengths: Obviously, DeSean Jackson's best asset is his speed, as he may be the fastest player in the league. He is basically the human version of the roadrunner. His tremendous speed makes him a huge big-play threat, as he has the ability to stretch the defense at any time to make big plays. He is also an elite kick and punt returner, which is a great asset to have. Jackson is well respected and defenses have to game plan for him because he is a game-changing type of player. His cockiness helps him at times, but it can also be his downfall.
Weaknesses: Jackson lacks the size to really be a possession receiver. He has shown he is a bit injury prone and he cannot really work the middle of the field due to his high injury tendency and lack of size. He does not block well down the field and his route running is limited. He is not a terrible route runner, but he mostly can only run deep routes well. Perhaps the biggest knock on Jackson is that he loses focus at times and makes stupid mistakes, like dropping the ball prior to reaching the end zone. His cockiness helps him as a player, but it also hurts him, as he tends to get penalized or he does silly things that hurt his team at times.
Prognosis: Jackson is obviously a game changer, but I am not sure he will be an Eagle for that much longer. Jackson's agent is going to try to get him top dollar and I don't think the Eagles will pay that, due to his injury history. He is not really a Reid type of player, but Reid has done a good job adjusting to Jackson's personality. Jackson may be an Eagle for another two-to-three years. I think his play may decline rapidly as he gets older. His whole game is speed and as that starts to go, so will his production. The Eagles are good at cutting ties when a player starts to become unproductive. If I had to pick, I would say Maclin is an Eagle far longer than Jackson.
RB LeSean McCoy
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Strengths: LeSean McCoy was drafted out of Pittsburgh because the Eagles saw a lot of Brian Westbrook in him. So far, they seem to have been right. McCoy is a solid back with lots of speed and he can break off a big run at any time. He also has the strength to break tackles, which is something he struggled with his rookie year but improved upon last season. He is good coming out of the backfield as a safety valve for Michael Vick and he is learning to block. He is still young and will only improve. He has some great moves and he is extremely elusive. He also holds onto the ball well, which is important for a back.
Weaknesses: McCoy has the tendency to try to run before he catches the ball, which led to some dropped passes last season. He is just an average blocker, and although he has improved, he struggles to pick up the blitz at times. He also gets run over in blocking schemes sometimes by larger linebackers or defensive ends. He had a few games in which he was irrelevant or disappeared, but a lot of that had to do with play calling. He also struggles running up the middle and in short yardage situations, mostly due to the fact that he is not a power runner or a big back. His endurance will be a concern as he ages, but that has yet to be an issue.
Prognosis: The shelf life of an NFL running back is about five-to-eight years, so I expect McCoy to be here for about that length of time. He will continue to improve over the next few seasons. Andy Reid went away from the running game at times last year and it will be important to keep McCoy involved in the offense. He is a good weapon from a rushing and passing perspective.
QB Michael Vick
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Strengths: After basically not playing for three years, Michael Vick came in halfway through Week 1 and took off as the Eagles' quarterback. Vick showed heart and a new dedication to the game. Obviously, his biggest asset is that he can run better than any QB in the league and he can often pick up key yardage or first downs with his legs. He can often make something out of nothing and he helped make up for a terrible OL last year. Vick has learned to be a better passer since joining the Eagles and he throws a really good deep ball, which is a great skill with the wide receivers he has. Vick has an excellent arm and throws well when he rolls to his left. He is elusive and he has become a student of the game.
Weaknesses: Despite his elusiveness, Vick gets sacked a lot, due to the fact that he often holds onto the ball too long or tries to make a play with his legs when there is nothing there. He also holds the ball out with one hand which makes him prone to fumbling the ball. He struggles when he has to roll to his right as he is a left-handed quarterback and he does not throw very well when teams force him the other way (which more teams are trying to do). Vick has improved at reading defenses, but he still makes mistakes in that regard. He does not have great touch on short passes. His lack of height hurts him because he gets a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. When teams spy him and game plan to make him go right, he seems to struggle to get things moving on offense. He also does not slide and his style of play leads to him getting hit a lot and increases his injury likelihood.
Prognosis: Vick was runner-up for MVP last year and he will likely win the award sometime soon. He is an elite QB and he will be an Eagle for the next three-to-five years. Even though he is 30 years old, he plays younger due to missing a few years. Vick gives the Eagles a chance to go to the Super Bowl every year and he will ultimately lead to the Eagles trading Kevin Kolb.
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If there is football next year, the Eagles will be the favorite in the NFC East. Their offense is the strength of the team. The only place they need immediate improvement is on the offensive line.
My guess is that the Eagles draft a QB somewhere in the middle rounds this year, as they will try to groom someone to trade or take over in a few years. Reid has had a lot of success with that as a coach.
Overall, the offense is young and talented, and most of the key pieces should be here for the foreseeable future. Jackson is the only one I am not certain will be here over the next three years or so.
So the future of the offense looks very bright. Join me next week when I dissect some of the key players on defense.
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