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.