Replacing DeSean: Don’t sleep on Jeremy Maclin

Replacing DeSean: Don’t sleep on Jeremy Maclin

82 receptions, 1,332 yards receiving, nine touchdowns; that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles must replace in the NFL’s No. 2 offense after the release of DeSean Jackson. Where’s it supposed to come from? Not necessarily from any one player. In this four part series, we examine whose roles will increase as a result of the move.

Is it possible we’ve all forgotten how good Jeremy Maclin really is?

Up until last season, there was legitimate debate as to whether the 2009 first-round pick is actually a superior all-around wide receiver to DeSean Jackson. There was even some chatter that Maclin might be a better fit for Chip Kelly’s offense.

Then disaster struck. Maclin suffered a torn ACL early during the first full day of training camp. His season erased, the onus fell on Jackson to replace Maclin’s production.

In 2014, the shoe will be on the other foot. This time, Maclin is tasked with filling the void left by Jackson’s release.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand perfectly the concerns over hanging your hat on a No. 1 receiver coming off of knee surgery. And it is true that in the four seasons Maclin has been on the field for, he’s never managed to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving—although he has reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Let’s take the second concern first, that Maclin hasn’t passed some magical statistical baseline that separates the No. 1s from the No. 2s. Before we start making excuses for the guy, let’s look back on his breakout season of 2010.

Among wideouts, Maclin’s 70 receptions ranked 19th. His 964 yards ranked 18th. 10 touchdowns were tied for 7th. 13 receptions of 20-plus yards, t-21st. 45 receptions for first down, 19th.

Those numbers would’ve been good enough to make him a No. 1 receiver on half the teams in the league. In Philly, he was always kind of viewed as 1b with Jackson around. This could be Maclin’s chance to step out of the three-time Pro Bowler’s shadow.

So what happened the next two seasons?

Health issues partially derailed his 2011 campaign. A mysterious illness—at one point thought to be lymphoma—had Maclin laid up for most of the offseason and would cause him to miss training camp. He was in uniform Week 1, but had lost weight and muscle mass in the meantime. An injury cost him three games later on as well.

All things considered, Maclin still posted a quality line with 63 receptions, 859 yards and five touchdowns. He was on pace to break 1,000 had he played all 16 games.

2012 wasn’t merely a disappointing season for Maclin. The Eagles finally bottomed out under Andy Reid, a 4-12 record resulting in the head coach’s firing after 14 years. The offense regressed as Jackson, All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, starting quarterback Michael Vick and three members of the offensive line all missed extensive time due to injuries.

Maclin still finished with 69 receptions, 857 yards and seven touchdown catches in 15 games, making him Philadelphia’s leader in all three categories.

Those figures aren’t going to make anybody forget about Jackson anytime soon. Then again, there is plenty of reason to believe Maclin could revert to his 2010 form under Kelly, if not exceed his breakout season entirely.

Why? Because practically everybody wearing midnight green (minus 30-year-old Jason Avant) posted some form of career high in Kelly’s offense during the head coach's first season on the Eagles sideline.

Jackson’s 82 catches and 1,332 were by far personal bests. Riley Cooper went from being a reserve who was in danger of being cut in training camp to viable No. 2 receiver. Brent Celek’s 15.7 yards per catch were 2.6 yards better than his previous high. McCoy won his first his NFL rushing championship. Nick Foles came out of nowhere to lead the league in passer rating.

It stands to reason Maclin would benefit from Kelly’s presence, too. Without Jackson there to take away targets, he’ll certainly have more opportunity than ever.

And, no, Maclin does not need the extra attention Jackson draws from defenses on the opposite side to be successful. Sure, Maclin is not quite as dangerous of a deep threat—although DBs would be wise not to sleep on his 4.4 speed—but he’s posted big days when Jackson was inactive in the past.

In the five games Jackson missed in 2012—four with Foles under center—Maclin recorded 28 receptions, 353 yards and three touchdowns. Project those numbers over a full season, and they work out to 89, 1,129 and nine.

It’s safe to say that kind of volume would go a long way toward replacing Jackson’s production.

Of course, there is still the issue of Maclin’s ACL. The truth is we have no real way of knowing how he’ll respond. What we do know is torn ACLs are not the career death sentence they once were, and most NFL players seem to recover fully even after experiencing more than one.

The fact that Maclin will only turn 26 this year should offer some hope, along with the knowledge that he will be 13 months into his rehabilitation by the time the season begins.

The good news is, as we’ll explore further in the coming days, it’s not all on Maclin to supplant Jackson’s production. That being said, as long as Maclin is healthy, it’s not as if every one of those 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns suddenly disappeared from the offense. In terms of pure numbers, the Eagles may not miss Jackson as much as we think.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).