How Good Are DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and the Eagles Wide Receivers?

How Good Are DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and the Eagles Wide Receivers?

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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Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty had four goals, Brian Flynn scored twice during a six-goal first period and the Montreal Canadiens routed the Colorado Avalanche 10-1 on Saturday night.

Flynn, Pacioretty and Artturi Lehkonen each scored against Calvin Pickard in the opening 7:12, and then Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Flynn each had a goal among the first four shots on Semyon Varlamov.

Pacioretty completed his hat trick in the second period and added another in the third to give the captain seven goals in his last four games.

Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry also scored for Montreal, which has shown no drop-off without injured scoring leader and first-line center Alex Galchenyuk. Montreal outshot the Avs 36-16 (see full recap).

Malkin, Crosby lead Penguins past Lightning 4-3
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby had another eventful night.

The Penguins star returned after passing concussion protocol following a first-period hit to get his 20th goal, and that stoked Pittsburgh's rally for its latest victory.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored their second goals on third-period power plays, helping the Penguins come back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Saturday.

Crosby was shaken up by Luke Witkowski's check with eight minutes to go in the first but returned for the start of the second period (see full recap).

Late barrage helps Blue Jackets beat Islanders 6-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift (see full recap).

Matthews, Hyman score in 2nd, Maple Leafs beat Bruins 4-1
BOSTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs found a way to overcome a poor opening period.

Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman scored in the second period, Frederik Andersen made 32 saves and the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday night.

"The last three games the first period kind of did us in," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't start on time. We were able to hold on. It still wasn't the first period we wanted, but we didn't give up the goals and we were able to execute a little bit."

After managing only two shots on goal in the first, Toronto was happy to get to the dressing room with the game scoreless (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).