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Jeremy Maclin led the Eagles in catches (69) and yards (857) last season. (USA Today Images)
When Jeremy Maclin went down in training camp with a season-ending knee injury, the Eagles lost what most people considered to be their second-best wide receiver behind DeSean Jackson.
Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks doesn’t see it that way.
On Wednesday, Nicks said the Eagles’ offense still looks dangerous on tape, even without “their No. 1 receiver.”
“They’ve still got the same guys on the offense that has been making plays,” Nicks said. “DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy. They lost their No. 1 receiver in Jeremy Maclin but, you now, DeSean Jackson’s been there for a while, [Jason] Avant’s been there, so they’ve got guys on offense that can definitely make plays.”
Technically speaking, Nicks isn’t wrong. Maclin led the Eagles last year in receptions (69) and receiving yards (857), but Jackson missed the last five games of the season after breaking his ribs. Jackson had 45 receptions for 700 yards in his 11 games, which put him on pace for 65 catches and 1,018 yards.
Had he stayed healthy, Jackson likely would have surpassed 1,000 yards for the third time in five seasons. Maclin, a 2009 first-round pick, has never topped 1,000 yards. The closest he came was 2010, when he totaled 964 receiving yards in his second season.
Maclin has shown more of a penchant for getting into the end zone. He entered camp with 26 career receiving touchdowns to Jackson’s 23 despite Jackson’s one-year head start. Jackson, however, has seven more TDs off punt returns and carries.
Maybe Nicks, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver who has just 12 catches this year, is showing his draft class some love. The Giants took the former North Carolina star with the 29th overall pick in 2009, 10 spots behind the Eagles, who traded up two spots to pick Maclin.
Maclin and Nicks were the third and fourth receivers, respectively, drafted in the first round but each has outperformed the top two, Darrius Heyward-Bey (seventh overall) and Michael Crabtree (10th).
The Jackson-Maclin debate became newsworthy lately because the Eagles have downplayed the absence of Maclin, who tore up his knee on the second day of training camp and is out for the season.
Jackson opened the season with two 100-yard, one-touchdown receiving games -- 104 against the Redskins and 193 against the Chargers -- but has since been held to five receptions for 96 yards as teams have paid more attention to the Pro Bowl wideout and disrupted the passing game by frequently blitzing Vick.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Maclin lacks Jackson’s top-end speed, but his body is more suited to fighting off press coverage. He and Jackson complemented each other in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, which capitalized on each guy’s strengths.
Last week, Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked how much his offense missed Maclin, who was entering his contract year.
“I don't really think of it that way,” Kelly said. “He's not here. We're missing [Harold] Carmichael, too. The guys that aren't here, we don't look at our things and say, ‘If this guy wasn't here, if that guy wasn't there.’
“Jeremy hasn't been here since camp. It is unfortunate, he's training his tail off every day. I see him every day in here. We never look at it if we had Jeremy Maclin, it's a different situation. I don't think it's productive to think about it that way. It's not going to change. Mac isn't coming back till next year.”