The Philadelphia Eagles lost one of their key offensive weapons this weekend. In the second day of training camp that featured the entire roster, starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. Entering his fifth year, Maclin was expected to play a major role in Chip Kelly's offense and was set for a make-or-break season with his contract set to expire. While the injury was a huge blow to the player, the team will now have to continue its quest to the top of the NFC East without him.
As the team learned with the season-long absence of offensive tackle Jason Peters in 2012, the Eagles need to find a suitable replacement for their wounded star. Whether the front office decides that player is already on the roster or somewhere else, the starting lineup currently has a major hole. Fortunately for the Eagles, its depth at wide receiver isn't completely a lost cause.
So who will step up on the Eagles' roster and take the reigns across from DeSean Jackson? Here are a few options for the Eagles to consider:
Career Stats: 46 receptions for 679 yards (14.8) and five touchdowns
Cooper is the longest-tenured Eagle on this list. The fourth-year player is coming off a season where he set career highs for touchdowns (3), receptions (23) and starts (5). While his 248 yards aren't going to excite anyone, Cooper's best asset is something Kelly holds near and dear to his heart. The former Florida Gator is a very good and a very willing blocker. With the team likely to run like never before, utilizing Cooper's strengths could greatly benefit other Eagles like LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. Cooper also has sneaky speed, with a forty-yard dash time of 4.53. He has size and plays with toughness that has been a rarity for Eagles' wide receivers. Cooper also has proven to make tough and sometimes even clutch receptions:
Career Stats: 19 receptions for 256 yards (13.5)
Johnson is a fan-favorite with a ton of ability. Last year, the Tulsa alum received playing time after making the Eagles' roster as an undrafted free agent. The then-rookie played in 14 games and even started in Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals due to injuries. A short speedster with YAC (yards after catch) ability, Johnson is the Eagles' most explosive option in replacing Maclin. His size is a bit concerning when partnered with Jackson, but their combination of speed will be tough for opposing teams. With tight ends and running backs set to be featured in pairs and trios, having two smaller wide receivers on the field shouldn't matter all that much. The main punt returner last season, Johnson is shifty and is likely to be used on gadget plays.
Career Stats: 59 receptions for 862 yards (14.6) and five touchdowns
Benn was acquired earlier this season from the Buccaneers and has the most starting experience of the in-house candidates set to replace Maclin. A former second round pick, Benn has a good pedigree and was a full-time starter for the Bucs in 2010 and 2011. He was restricted to just eight games last season due to injury and falling out of favor with then-new coach Greg Schiano. Still, Benn has a been used as a weapon during his first three years in the league. The Illinois alum's versatility was highlighted in his first two seasons in Tampa Bay. He was used as a runner, a receiver and a returner from 2011-2012. Benn has averaged nearly 15 yards per catch over his career and has experience in the slot as well as on the outside. His blocking ability parallels Cooper's and he uses his large body (220 lbs) well. The 24-year old is likely the co-favorite with Cooper to start opposite Jackson.
Career Stats: N/A
While Ertz is a tight end, his size and speed combination could create major mismatches for Eagles' opponents. Ertz has great size and while he's had trouble with drops, his ability to get open is intriguing. He isn't going to run past cornerbacks, but his size will allow him to bully the much smaller defensive backs. Kelly wants to get tight ends on the field, so perhaps starting one in the wide receiver spot would be good enough for him. Starting Ertz would allow Kelly to constantly have three tight ends in the game and not limit the snaps of the slot receiver or Jackson. While he's likely a long-shot to start, don't put it past Kelly to be creative with the absence of Maclin.
Since word broke of Maclin's injury, Twitter has been a buzz about who would replace him. The fanbase seems to be split as to whether the team should go in-house or pick up a guy off the street. Fans know the names of Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson and Austin Collie, but there are reasons why those guys are left on the unemployment line. Robinson and Collie both have battled major concussions throughout their careers and are likely one more away from being forced to retire. In fact, Robinson's last concussion came from a contact drill. He also received tryouts from the Jets, Patriots and Lions, who passed on the former Jaguar. Lloyd has been productive over the last few years, but he greatly wore out his welcome in New England last year. He has received the reputation of a "diva" for his attitude as a Patriot and prior to a few years ago was an underwhelming journeyman.
If the Eagles do added a veteran free agent, their best bet may be Donald Jones. The former Bill was just released by the Patriots and has starting experience. The move would be a low-risk and give the team a bit more experience in the lineup. Jones wouldn't necessarily be brought in to start, but would be able to provide depth and competition in camp and potentially during the season.
Howie Roseman is known for making deals. His ability to get good players for great value (DeMeco Ryans, Benn) makes a trade a realistic option. There are several crowded wide receiver groups around the league, so teams may be willing to deal. Players that have been rumored to be shopped this offseason include Nate Washington, Malcolm Floyd, Robert Meachem and Andre Caldwell. Those players could be tempting to the coaching staff, but may not be worth the compensation that their teams may request in return. Still, there could be a Ryans-like surprise stud that the Eagles could grab during the preseason.
Who do you think will replace Maclin? Is the player on the roster or is he somewhere else?