Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

While there was rampant change throughout most of the roster, the wide receivers and tight ends were largely unscathed, at least as far as the impact players are concerned. A few veterans were dumped, and some competition was brought in at the back end, but all of the starters remain intact, including the slot receiver. That type of consistency should be a tremendous help for a first-year starter at quarterback, but the question we're asking is whether the group is better or worse?

BETTER

Jeremy Maclin

This might be up for some debate, as we're going out on a bit of a limb predicting Maclin will continue to develop and make advances in his second pro season. That's just what's expected of wide receivers entering their sophomore year, and from what we saw from him as a rookie, we're comfortable projecting a leap forward.

The question is what type of receiver Maclin will become. He has big play ability, racking up three catches over 50 yards already, including the 76-yard touchdown reception in the Wild Card loss to the Cowboys, yet he only went over 100 yards on two occasions the entire season. Instead, he was merely dependable, particularly down the stretch where he went eight straight (injury-free) games with at least four catches and 50 yards.

That's a strong finish for a rookie season, something most people anticipate him building upon in 2010.

Brent Celek

We touched on the idea of Celek seeing an improvement in production again. Most people think it's unlikely after the Pro Bowl caliber digits he threw up in '09. Is a near-1,000 yard effort something he can seriously outperform?

There are a couple reasons why it may not be such a stretch. First of all, Celek battled through some torn ligaments in his hand toward the end of last season. While it didn't keep him out of the lineup, or even from remaining a frequent target, there were some issues with reliability. Pro Football Focus lists him third among tight ends with eight dropped passes, half of those occurring over the final six games of the season. We'll give him a pass and believe that total will drop.

The main indicator was what he achieved in two games with Kevin Kolb under center. Kolb looked for Celek frequently, which should come as no surprise given how much they worked together in practice and an inexperienced quarterback's tendency to rely on the tight end. It resulted in two of his biggest games of the season, a pair of consecutive eight reception, 104 yard days and a 35-yard touchdown. They are in sync, and over a full season, Celek could emerge as one of the elite pass catching tight ends in the NFL.

Tight End depth

Over the past few years, Andy Reid has managed to enter the season without one fairly essential, but easily overlooked piece of the club. In '07, the lack of an experienced punt returner cost them a game. In '08, they had a defensive player lining up as their regular fullback. Last season, you could make the case it was tight end depth.

The Eagles failed to sign a tight end in free agency, and didn't bother to draft one until the fifth round. Cornelius Ingram promptly went down with an injury, which left... um, nobody actually. Literally. They brought in Alex Smith, who seemed capable enough as a blocker, but only managed to contribute three catches all year.

They'll still be an inexperienced bunch behind Celek, although they hope to have added some insurance. Clay Harbor is an athletic prospect who played tight end, fullback, and even some wide receiver in college. Meanwhile, Ingram is recovering from another ACL tear, and while he hasn't even seen a down in the NFL, that's another high ceiling player if he can stay on the field.

At the very least, they added an extra body, and overall there is some solid potential behind Celek now.

WORSE

Experience

Nobody is going to miss Reggie Brown or Kevin Curtis. Each had their moment here, however brief; Brown's career got off to a promising start before falling off the face of the earth, and Curtis reached the 1,000 yard milestone in his first season in Philadelphia before getting derailed by injuries. Just wasn't meant to be here for either man, as the two combined for a lowly 15 catches in '09.

There's something to be said for removing both from the roster though. It should be noted Brown has more catches and yards than any Eagles receiver or tight end over the last five years, and Curtis was the only player between T.O. and DJac to gain over 1,000 yards through the air. While both are probably fringe starters at best now, they both have plenty of games under their belt, experience in the system, and have been known to fill up the stat sheet once in awhile. That has to count for something.

OVERVIEW

We all knew where this was going. There simply wasn't much change across the board, but particularly among the major players at wide receiver and tight end. Everybody is back. It's actually pretty silly to say they're better now, because they could already be considered among the best units in the league, but they sure as hell aren't any worse. Should be another fun season watching this group flying down the field.

Grade: Better

Eagles Stay or Go Part 3: Trey Burton to Vinny Curry

Eagles Stay or Go Part 3: Trey Burton to Vinny Curry

In the third of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 3 is Burton to Curry.

Trey Burton
Restricted free agent

Roob: Burton caught 14 passes the first nine games of the year and 23 the last six games of the year. One of the few Eagles who actually showed significant improvement as the year went on. He did drop a few too many passes, which is surprising for the usually sure-handed tight end. But overall Burton continued to progress and show signs that he can be a very good receiver in this offense. Burton isn’t a Zach Ertz, but there’s no reason he and Ertz can’t be a pretty potent 1-2 tight end punch. Burton will catch 50 passes next year and continue to improve as a blocker. A nice player who can do a lot of different things. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Burton had a career-high 37 catches in 2016 after having just three in his first three seasons. The Eagles would love to have Burton back next season, but they might not be able to afford it. They really have two options. One would be to use the lowest tender, which would allow teams to negotiate with him and sign him without compensation; that price would be about $1.8 million. Or they could place a second-round tender on him, which means any team that signs him would have to give the Eagles a second-round pick; that price would be around $2.75 million next season. If the Eagles place the original round (lowest) tender on him, which I see happening, other teams might be interested. The Eagles would then have the ability to match an offer, but how much money are they going to put into the tight end position? 

Verdict: GOES

Nolan Carroll
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: Carroll isn’t as bad as Nnamdi Asomugha or Byron Maxwell or Bradley Fletcher or even Leodis McKelvin, but he is yet another in a seemingly endless list of free-agent cornerbacks the Eagles have spent a fortune for that haven’t panned out. Carroll isn’t awful, but let’s be honest. He’s really not much of a playmaker, he gets beat way too often, he’s inconsistent and the Eagles need to get better at corner. Carroll is a free agent, and I don’t see any reason to re-sign him. He had just one interception this year, and 44 NFL cornerbacks had more. He’s just a guy, and the Eagles need more than that. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Carroll was brought back on a one-year deal for 2016 after he visited with the Cowboys. The deal wasn’t worth a ton — just over $2 million — so they could go with the same type of deal to bring him back for next season. But do they want to? Carroll didn’t have his best season and even admitted as much. It might be time to part ways and try to upgrade at the position long term. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: Celek isn’t going anywhere. Thanks to that somewhat mystifying three-year contract extension last offseason, he would count $6 million in dead money if the Eagles released him. As opposed to $2 million in salary. So Celek, who is still a capable blocker and catches just about everything he can get to, will be back for an 11th year in an Eagles uniform. I have no problem with Celek staying. He's been a tremendous Eagle on and off the field for a long, long time. It’s just the Eagles have so many weaknesses and then this glut of tight ends, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. But at least they’re deep somewhere. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Yeah, $5 million is a big cap hit for a guy who has pretty much become a blocking tight end. With his new deal, though, the Eagles wouldn’t save money if they cut him. And they probably wouldn’t want to anyway. I’m not really one for keeping a guy just for leadership, but I think the Eagles want Celek to retire as an Eagle. If he can hold on for two more seasons, he’ll do that. 

Verdict: STAYS

Don Cherry

Roob: The former Villanova Wildcat will get a chance to impress during offseason workouts, but his most likely landing spot if he impresses is the practice squad. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Villanova linebacker spent most of the 2016 season on the Eagles’ practice squad, so he’s an unlikely candidate to make the 53-man roster in 2017. Still, he’ll be in training camp and get a chance to prove himself. Maybe he can hang on the practice squad another year. 

Verdict: GOES

Fletcher Cox
Cap hit: $9.4M

Roob: Cox was good this year but not as dominating as last year, and it will be interesting to watch how his career progresses as the huge base salaries start to kick in. Cox has a $9.4 million cap hit this year, $17.9 the following year and as high as $22 million in 2019 before dropping to $20.3 million, $17.2 million and $17.1 million. Needless to say, that is an unprecedented investment. The Eagles aren’t paying him to be good, they’re paying him to be one of the upper-echelon elite defensive players in the NFL, and this year, he just wasn’t on that level. He’s not going anywhere for a long time, but he has to be consistently better than he was this past season for that contract to be worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A tough one here. Just kidding. Cox might have had a down season statistically, finishing with just 6½ sacks, but those stats don’t tell the whole story. Cox is still the most disruptive force on the Eagles’ defense and brings double teams all the time, which in theory should help his teammates. He needs to eventually find ways to beat those double teams and I think he will. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Cap hit: $9M

Roob: Curry’s another one who’s not going anywhere. You want to cut him after a disappointing 2½-sack season? Get ready for a $15 million dead money hit. That’s not happening. Curry’s five-year, $46.25 million contract looks like a mistake now, but the Eagles can’t get out from under it until 2018 at the earliest. Curry will be here for at least one more year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Curry got paid last offseason and didn’t have much to show for it in 2016. He signed a five-year extension worth $46.25 million and then went out and played just 43 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and had just 2½ sacks. That’s the same number of sacks Marcus Smith had in 2016. Curry had nine sacks in 2014 and has 10 in the other combined four years of his career. But that contract is just kicking in and he’s not going anywhere. 

Verdict: STAYS

Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

TORONTO — First semester of college can often be a challenge for many students, but for Tanner Laczynski, the experience was a sweet one — literally. 

Part of Laczynski’s course load at Ohio State University was “Chocolate Science.” According to the course website, students receive an “introduction to science and business of chocolate. Students develop and market a chocolate product as part of a virtual company. Students taste commercial products.” 

Laczynski, who plans to declare his major in business in his second semester, got a lesson in chocolates from around the world during the course. 

“Chocolate Science wasn't bad,” Laczynski said with a laugh a few weeks ago. “All I did was eat chocolate and write a paper about it. There's lots of different chocolate, and they all taste good.” 

Growing up 43 miles outside of Chicago in Shorewood, Illinois, Laczynski wasn’t a big football fan, saying there wasn’t much to cheer for with respects to the Bears, but since relocating to the Buckeye State, he’s taken up interest in the local team. 

“That's a big part of it,” Laczynski said of attending OSU. “I've been to two games, they haven't been the strongest opponents so kind of blowouts.” 

Laczynski was in the middle of a nap when the Flyers used their sixth-round pick to select him on the second day of the 2016 NHL draft. He was admittedly startled to be woken up by his parents, Ken and Dawn, along with sister Payton and brother Hayden.

“I'd just gotten back home from coaching some kids, it was early in the morning, came back, took a nap and my parents were all excited,” Laczynski said. “I was still tired from my nap, but woke up pretty quick. 

“They just kind of attacked me so I was kind of like, 'What's going on?' at first. That was unbelievable and it's a moment I won't forget."

After a quick phone call from his agent, Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor and John Riley, in charge of player development in Philly, were on the phone to welcome Laczynski to the club. 

This season, the 19-year-old had six goals and 16 assists in 15 games prior to leaving to join Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships.  

The under-20 tournament is the third time Laczynski has represented the U.S. internationally. He also wore Team USA colors for the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament and the under-19 World Junior A Challenge.

Through the first six games at the world juniors, Laczynski tallied one goal and an assist. He missed the semifinals against Russia because of an illness, but was in the lineup as the Americans defeated the Canadians, 5-4, in a shootout to win gold.

Despite being just three months into his first year at OSU, the Flyers remain in constant communication with their prospect. 

“I talk to John Riley quite a bit, he's always in contact with me sending me game film and sending me clips of NHL highlights and stuff like that,” Laczynski said. “We keep in touch, it's a relationship and it's nice to keep in touch with him.”

During his freshman season, skating has been an area of focus for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward.

“I think my big thing is my first couple steps, just my quickness, stopping, getting back on it. I think that's my biggest thing,” he said. “Once I get that down, I feel like I have the speed, but just build an extra step, just improve on that, I think that'll be a tremendous help to my game.” 

Laczynski, who spent three seasons in the USHL prior to committing to the Buckeyes, said he tries to model his game after one-time Flyer Jaromir Jagr. 

“He's kind of the guy that I watched a lot just because of his puck protection and everything,” Laczynski said. “I try to kind of use my body to protect the puck down low and create some chances in the offensive zone. 

“He's got a really good stick — I try to watch that and have an active stick in the defensive zone and offensive zone, as well.” 

In his conversations with Riley and Pryor, the expectations for Laczynski are clear.

“Their goal for me is just to consistently play nine out of 10 nights instead of that seven out of 10 nights and get my game elevated a little bit more, play more consistently,” Laczynski said.

“I think that's the biggest thing.”