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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Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.