When Jeremy Maclin left the Philadelphia Eagles during free agency, the feeling was Jordan Matthews would fill the void of the featured wide receiver. After all, Matthews was coming off an outstanding rookie season and was only getting better, right?
Well, Matthews may be the Eagles' primary receiver, and as a second-year player, he is certainly still improving. But as for replacing Maclin's production, Matthews is coming up far short of expectations.
The 2014 second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt has 64 receptions this season, but for just 680 yards—a paltry 10.6 average—and four touchdowns. That would be ordinary under any circumstances, let alone in Philadelphia's offense.
Last season, Maclin racked up 85 catches for 1,315 yards—a 15.5 average—and 10 touchdowns. In 2013, DeSean Jackson posted 82 catches for 1,332 yards—a 16.2 average—and nine touchdowns under head coach Chip Kelly.
It's not as if there wasn't reason to suspect Matthews could match or at least come close to those Pro Bowlers' numbers. As a 22-year-old rookie, he managed 67 receptions for 872 yards—a 13.0 average—and eight touchdowns. In fact, those numbers are likely to wind up looking a lot better than whatever he finishes with this year, even if he does catch more passes.
Matthews has only eclipsed 100 yards receiving in two games this season. He's only gone for 60 or more in four. Meanwhile, he's been held to fewer than 40 yards receiving in four of the Eagles' last six contests and under 20 in three of those.
In other words, Matthews is only becoming less involved in the offense as the season marches on, not more. Worse is it's difficult to pin this sophomore slump on any one thing.
For starters, the offense as a whole has been erratic. Quarterback Sam Bradford's play has improved as of late, but he was anything but sharp when the season began. Bradford also hasn't always had a lot of time to scan the field behind an inconsistent offensive line, either. And issues with penalties and in the running game haven't always put the passing attack in favorable situations.
Matthews' development may be limited by how much the Eagles deploy him out of the slot as well, especially considering the lack of perimeter threats. Maclin helped open up the middle of the field last season. This season, the Eagles' most productive receiver on the outside is Riley Cooper with 19 catches for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
Matthews has been seeing more work on the outside recently, but given how little he worked there in training camp, it's a little late to expect him to become a major weapon there. He certainly possesses the size and athleticism to be effective in that role but likely needs more training before he can begin to fulfill his potential.
Whatever the case may be, it's clear this is not the season many envisioned for the second-year receiver stepping into some big shoes. Fortunately, the Eagles are still in the playoff hunt in spite of Matthews' struggles, but when this team is eventually eliminated, be it during the regular or postseason, one of the reasons will be the lack of playmaker at wideout.