Replacing DeSean: The other guys, but mostly, a draft pick

Replacing DeSean: The other guys, but mostly, a draft pick

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. [ Part 1: Jeremy Maclin ] [ Part 2: Darren Sproles ] [ Part 3: Zach Ertz ]

From a sheer production standpoint, it would seem the Eagles have more than enough offensive talent to sustain the loss of Jackson.

A healthy Jeremy Maclin should be able to put up similar numbers or close to Jackson taking over the three-time Pro Bowler’s role in Chip Kelly’s offense. Darren Sproles adds 60-70 receptions, plus brings the added dimension of unpredictability being able to line up in either the backfield or the slot on any given play. Zach Ertz appears to be in line for a breakout season as well, perhaps even pushing 1,000 yards and/or double-digit touchdowns this year.

That being said, there’s no denying the Eagles are suddenly very thin at wide receiver specifically. There’s no clear-cut No. 3 on the roster right now behind Maclin and Riley Cooper, and that’s not even accounting for what will happen if one of those two gets hurt.

Note the use of the word “thin” though, not “devoid.” There are a couple of in-house candidates for that third wideout spot in veterans Arrelious Benn and Brad Smith.

I don’t hold very high hopes for Benn myself, but not for any lack of ability. A second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2010, the 25-year-old has had a hell of a time staying on the field. He missed all of last season—his first as an Eagle—with a torn ACL, and played sparingly in eight games due to injuries in ’12.

Prior to the last two injury-plagued seasons, Benn flashed some potential as a legitimate threat in the aerial attack. The Illinois product posted 55 receptions for 836 yards and five touchdowns in 29 games over his first two seasons, in some constipated offenses I might add.

The Birds were obviously holding out some hope they might be able to develop Benn into something more, trading a sixth-round pick to Tampa last year and quickly signing him to an extension. At 6’2”, 220 pounds with 4.42 speed, the potential is certainly there. If Benn could only stay healthy, he could easily be in the Eagles’ plans for this season.

Philly fans got a small taste of what Smith can bring to the offense in ‘13. Signed away from the Buffalo Bills midway through last season, it was far too late in the year to have a huge role in the offense. Smith contributed on special teams though, while Kelly found ways to utilize Smith’s unique skillset.

Mostly, that meant gadget plays. Formerly a quarterback at the University of Missouri, the veteran wide receiver/running back lined up in the backfield and took snaps out of the shotgun a few times. These plays weren’t greeted with much success, yet it was still another wrinkle defenses have to be concerned about.

Listed as a receiver, Smith actually has more rushing attempts (134) than receptions (103) for his eight-year career. You wonder about there being some duality with his and Sproles’ roles in the offense moving forward. Then again, I’m not sure a team can ever have too many players who can play multiple positions.

Either Benn or Smith or a combination of the two could legitimately fill that No. 3 receiver spot if everything works out just right—especially considering Sproles will see some time there as well and more two-tight end sets are likely in Ertz’s second season.

Obviously, the Eagles aren’t going to leave it at that though.

It’s no secret Philadelphia will take a wide receiver at some point in the upcoming draft, perhaps even as high as the No. 22 pick overall. Contrary to popular opinion, the front office doesn’t necessarily need to address the position in the first round—in this exceptionally deep class, starting-caliber talent could be available as late as the third or fourth.

I mean, after all, even Jackson wasn’t a first-round pick.

General manager Howie Roseman told Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com back in February there would be a receiver the team liked available in every round.

Whoever this mystery rookie is, no matter what round he’s taken, the good news is there won’t be as much pressure as some might think to make an immediate contribution in the offense. There is plenty of competition for that WR3 spot, while more Sproles and Ertz will lessen the number of snaps for that role.

Last season, Jason Avant was in the game roughly 75 percent of the time when the Birds were on offense. The frequency with which Kelly uses 11 personnel naturally is going to decrease.

A rookie wide receiver might be pressed into a bigger role in the event something happens to Maclin or Cooper, or if the kid is just that good. His is likely to be mainly a situational spot in this offense for 2014 though, which would be fine.

With so many other talented players seemingly ready to step up and take over some of Jackson’s production in the offense, there doesn’t have to be this overwhelming sense of urgency to develop a new star to replace him from day one. Consider whatever the Eagles get from their No. 3 wide receiver this year a bonus.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."