It wasn’t long ago when wide receiver was considered a huge
strength for the Eagles. Back in 2010, DeSean Jackson posted his second
straight 1,000-yard season, and Jeremy Maclin came close to reaching the
milestone for the first time while also hauling in 10 touchdown passes. Jason
Avant was getting the job done. With Riley Cooper heading into his second NFL
season, and Steve Smith signed away from the Giants during the offseason, the
team looked set at the position as recently as 2011.
Less than two years later, the shine has worn off. The
explosive plays stopped coming in bunches for Jackson, plus his attitude became
a distraction at one point. Maclin hasn’t taken the next step and is scheduled
to become a free agent at season’s end. Avant turns 30 in April, and he’s not
the most dynamic to begin with. Arrelious Benn joins Cooper, Damaris Johnson,
and a handful of other mostly anonymous players to round out a nice collection
of prospects, which they’re all just that: prospects.
Not many people could have foreseen such a drastic shift in
perception about one group of players – particularly Jackson and Maclin – over
this short amount of time. They looked like a relatively deep bunch, while few franchises
could boast a duo of not one but two potential Pro Bowlers on the outside.
I suppose some of the events that unfolded were actually predictable,
like DJacc pouting when Joe Banner refused to pay him a well-deserved raise,
while there has always been concern that at his size his effectiveness could
diminish rapidly the older and more beat up he got. The writing was already on
the wall for Michael Vick’s fall from grace as well by the time Packers’
cornerback Sam Shields picked off his pass intended for Cooper in the Eagles’
last playoff game, which the play under center has been partly responsible for
any declining numbers or stunted development.
On the other hand nobody could have predicted Maclin would
have a major health scare in the ’11 offseason that would ravage his physical
conditioning, which very well may have derailed his growth. It’s difficult to
even evaluate a lot of these players right now after the lost season they just experienced,
with all those injuries along the offensive line, and a rookie quarterback at
the helm for half of it.
You might not go so far as to call it a dilemma, and as
areas of need go, this one arguably falls pretty far down the list. Moves like
the trade for Benn also indicate wide receiver is on the radar for the Birds’
front office however. Perhaps changes are more imminent than we assume.
Does that mean the targets Nick Foles will be throwing to
come September are going to be radically different from the guys from last
year? Well, no. Jackson is under contract, and there are high hopes for his
ceiling in a Chip Kelly offense, while unless there is a sweet offer out there
for Maclin, he’s got one more chance at minimum to realize his full potential.
Obviously the front office likes what they see in Benn,
quickly handing him a one-year extension through 2014. At 6-2, he’s got the
size the rest of the group lacks for the most part, and if he’s healthy, the
4.4 speed to get vertical. He did wash out rather quickly in Tampa Bay though,
so while the upside might be there, Benn’s presence on the roster might be more
of a band-aid while the front office addresses more immediate needs. Unless
they make a move in the draft though, it appears that will be the only
difference for now.
Even if Kelly’s system can rejuvenate Jackson, and the worst
case scenario for Maclin is he sticks around and continues producing
800-to-900-yard seasons, at the moment wide receiver is a unit that it appears could
stand a subtle makeover for a pass-heavy league. Unless one of their Benn or one of the Eagles' prospects is gearing up for a breakout season,
it seems there is an ingredient or two missing from the mix.
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