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Jeremy Maclin Stepping Out of DeSean Jackson's Shadow in Philadelphia

Andrew Kulp@@KulpSaysContributor ISeptember 23, 2014

Sep 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (18) celebrates his touchdown against the Washington Redskins during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

From the time he was drafted No. 19 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, Jeremy Maclin played second fiddle to DeSean Jackson. Jackson went to three Pro Bowls during that span. Maclin has yet to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in a season.

On Sunday, the wideouts stood on opposite sidelines for the first time in their professional careers. Jackson showed once again why he is one of the NFL’s preeminent deep threats, breaking loose for an 81-yard touchdown.

Maclin showed why the Eagles were comfortable with releasing Jackson during the offseason.

Maclin one-upped his former teammate, finishing with eight receptions for 154 yards and the go-ahead, 27-yard touchdown in Philadelphia’s 37-34 win over Washington to improve to 3-0. With that performance, the six-year veteran was finally able to take his first steps out of Jackson’s shadow.

Jeremy Maclin 2014 Game Logs
GMTGTRECYDSAVGTD
Wk 1 vs. JAC1049724.31
Wk 2 @ IND1144511.31
Wk 3 vs. WAS10815419.31
Pro-Football-Reference.com

In addition to the plays he was credited for, Maclin also had an 80-yard score wiped away by a penalty, and quarterback Nick Foles overthrew him on another certain TD. In fact, Foles failed to connect on several occasions where his receiver had a step on the defense.

Despite some missed opportunities, through three games, Maclin is on pace for 85 receptions, 1,579 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which would be career highs. Those would all be career highs for Jackson as well. In fact, the yardage and touchdowns would be franchise records.

Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

Granted, Maclin’s figures are likely to regress over 16 games, but it’s no surprise he’s on track to set new personal bests. Practically every offensive player enjoyed a career year on some level in Chip Kelly’s first season on the sidelines.

Of course, Maclin didn’t get the chance. He was sidelined by a torn ACL in training camp, missing all of 2013. To be fair, the injury is partly why there was so much concern over the 26-year-old replacing Jackson as the offense’s featured receiver to begin with.

That being said, there was also general doubt in Maclin simply because he had never been the go-to guy before. His previous best came in 2010, when he finished with 70 receptions and 964 yards for nine touchdowns—impressive, but a notch below elite.

Plus, how much of his success was unfairly attributed to Jackson’s presence, with defenses supposedly keying on Maclin’s mirror?

Maclin vs. Jackson, 2010-2012
PLAYERGMSRECYDSAVG20+40+TD
Jackson401502,71718.1451512
Maclin442022,68013.3401022
NFL.com

Those are great numbers for a so-called No. 2, though. And the reason Maclin never duplicated or improved upon them had more to do with the offense taking a nosedive as a whole than his own limitations, lack of development or anything that had to do with Jackson.

The recent outburst shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise. Claims that Maclin isn’t a deep threat or effective in the red zone were largely unfounded. No, he’s not the biggest or the fastest player in the NFL, but he is a quality receiver who makes opponents defend every blade of grass.

Dec 23, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) looks for wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (18) on a 27-yard touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field.  Mandatory Cred
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Between past offensive struggles and a lost season, folks outside the Eagles front office seemed to forget how good Maclin truly is.

Despite posting a line of 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns in ‘13—all setting or matching career highs—Jackson was released during the offseason with three years remaining on a five-year deal.

Maclin, on the other hand, was re-signed to a one-year contract before he could reach free agency. If there was ever any doubt within the organization as to whether he could fill Jackson’s shoes, the Eagles left little indication.

Jackson’s release probably had more to do with off-field behavior and behind-the-scenes issues than the club cares to admit. Regardless, you have to wonder whether the Eagles would've been willing to take the risk of releasing a three-time Pro Bowler in the midst of his prime if Maclin isn’t there waiting in the wings.

Maclin's Career Stats
YRGMSRECYDSAVGTD
201431629618.53
2012156985712.47
2011136385913.65
2010167096413.810
2009155676313.84
NFL.com

Despite a few hitches, Foles and the Eagles offense seem to be getting along just fine with the new setup. Philadelphia is second in the NFL in passing and scoring, and Foles is on pace for 5,216 yards and 32 touchdowns.

The fact that Maclin has been targeted 31 times—14 more times than anybody else on the team through three games—is no accident. Despite any misguided notion that the Eagles would spread the ball around more, he is the clear focal point of the passing attack, same as Jackson before him.

If things continue anywhere near their current rate, Maclin should reach his first Pro Bowl with ease—perhaps at the expense of Jackson.

It’s official. Maclin is a No. 1 receiver now, and all it took was for Jackson to be removed from the equation. Before long, the question will shift from whether Maclin can handle the role to what kind of contract it will take to keep him in midnight green beyond 2014.

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