Can DeSean Jackson put together another Pro Bowl caliber season? With Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper both returning to Philadelphia, who will be the #2 wide receiver? All that and more discussed in part 3 of Evaluating the Eagles.
This is part 3 of an 11 part series, this part will focus specifically on the wide receivers on the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles and how the team can improve heading into the 2014 season. Each part will focus on a specific positional group with 11 in all (QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DL, ILB, OLB, CB, S and ST [K, P, KR and PR]). Now let's talk Eagles' wide receivers.
2013 Eagles' Wide Receivers: DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Jeff Maehl, Brad Smith and Damaris Johnson. (Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn will be discussed as well but both of them missed the entire 2013 regular season due to torn ACL injuries)
How'd they do?
DeSean Jackson: 85 receptions for 1,385 receiving yards and 9 receiving touchdowns with 1 fumble (0 lost). (including playoffs)
Once new head coach Chip Kelly was hired, everyone believed it was a dream scenario for DeSean Jackson. It was a perfect scheme for Jackson since he can lineup all over the field and stretch the defense with his blazing speed.
Just as everyone predicted, Jackson was a key cog in Kelly's offense and was a consistent big play threat no matter where he lined up on the field. Jackson was used on the outside where he pretty much spent the entirety of his career up until the 2013 season but was also used in the slot and in motion into the backfield as well.
Jackson had a career season capped off by a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Jackson was a consistent force, posting five games with over 100 receiving yards as well as eight games with at least one receiving touchdown. He reached career highs in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and first downs. It's safe to say Jackson lived up to the hype he had heading into the 2013 season in Kelly's offense.
Overall Grade: A-. I would've given him a higher grade but his production did tail off at the end of the season. But overall, Jackson had a phenomenal season and proved he's a top receiver in the NFL.
Riley Cooper: 53 receptions for 903 receiving yards and 9 receiving touchdowns. (including playoffs)
Once Jeremy Maclin went down in training camp with a torn ACL, everyone believed it was time for Riley Cooper to step up. But then that awful video of Cooper was released and many questioned if he should even stay on the team. Surprisingly, a majority of the team's veteran leaders like Michael Vick, Jason Avant and DeMeco Ryans stood by Cooper through the controversy and he was able to remain on the roster.
The best way to put that fiasco behind him was to prove he was a good football player because in the end, that's all most people care about. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately?" league and Cooper had all the pressure in the world on him to perform in 2013. If he didn't perform, he may have never been welcomed into an NFL locker room again.
But Cooper didn't just meet expectations, he exceeded them far and away. Cooper had an awful start to the season with just 93 receiving yards and 1 receiving touchdown over the season's first five games. Everyone was quick to judge him and rightfully so.
For some magical reason, everything changed once Nick Foles became the starting quarterback. Cooper's production skyrocketed with the new signal caller leading the team. Cooper finished the regular season with 742 receiving yards and 7 receiving touchdowns in the final 11 games.
Cooper followed it up with a solid playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. Finishing with 6 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Foles and Cooper clearly have a special connection with one another and with Cooper's new contract, they should continue to link up on some special plays for many years to come.
Overall Grade: A. Sure, he didn't have the best start to the season with the whole video scandal and little production with Vick at quarterback. But Cooper showed he can be a solid #2 WR and that he had a special bond with Foles. He may fail to create separation at times but Cooper is a fantastic blocker with big time play-making ability.
Jason Avant: 43 receptions for 468 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns with 1 fumble (1 lost).
In 2013, Jason Avant continued to, well...just be Jason Avant. He's a leader in the locker room and on the field. He's that steadying force in the slot that Michael Vick and Nick Foles always knew they could rely on. Avant has some of the best hands in the league but I believe this past season in Philadelphia may be his last.
Avant is due a $1 million roster bonus on March 15th and is set to make a total of $3.9 million in 2014. Although he is a great blocker, has great hands and is a reliable receiver, Avant just doesn't fit what Chip Kelly is trying to do. Receivers in Kelly's offense should be interchangeable and be able to run almost every route from almost anywhere on the field.
But Avant cannot do that. He's strictly a slot wide receiver that is at his best working the middle of the field with short and intermediate routes. I believe Avant will be replaced in either the draft or free agency by a much faster, big play threat. It'll be sad to see him go but he's just holding the offense back from really hitting that next level.
Overall Grade: C+. Avant was his usual self, but the Eagles needed more. No team has to game-plan or worry about him and that is a problem that has to be fixed.
Jeff Maehl: 4 receptions for 67 receiving yards and 1 receiving touchdown.
When the Eagles acquired Jeff Maehl from the Houston Texans, many believed it was just Chip Kelly bringing in another former Oregon Duck. For the most part, that was true. But throughout the season, Maehl showed promise as a receiver and special teams contributor.
He only really saw time as a WR during garbage time in games that were out of hand. Those games being week 4 against the Denver Broncos where Maehl caught his first touchdown and week 9 when the Eagles blew out the Oakland Raiders.
But Maehl was also showed great blocking skills which Chip Kelly covets at the wide receiver position. Based on all his intangibles and experience in the offense, there's a slight chance Maehl might make the Eagles' final roster again in 2014.
Overall Grade: D. Maehl couldn't show much since he wasn't really on the field but he showed potential as a solid special teams contributor and blocker at the wide receiver position.
Brad Smith: 2 receptions for 27 receiving yards.
Once Brad Smith was cut off the Buffalo BIlls' injured reserve list before week 11, the Eagles were quick to bring him in for a workout and eventually signed him. They sorely needed depth at the wide receiver spot and Smith was a veteran with kick return experience as well.
Smith didn't contribute much but Chip Kelly definitely got creative when he was in the game. He had Smith line-up at quarterback and attempt a pass once, as well as motion into the back-field and run the ball.
Smith brings a lot of versatility to the table as a wide receiver but his age and injury history might prevent him from making the roster again in 2014.
Overall Grade: D. He botched a snap at quarterback and didn't do much as a receiver. But he did have solid kick return numbers when he was given the oppurtunity to return including a 47-yard return against the Minnesota Vikings in week 15.
Damaris Johnson: 2 receptions for 14 receiving yards.
After an impressive college career at Tulsa and a surprising 2012 season, some people believed Johnson could play a De'Anthony Thomas' type of role in Chip Kelly's offense. Johnson has the ability to carry the ball, catch the ball and return the ball with great quickness and agility.
But Johnson was very inconsistent in the return game and his inability to be an effective blocker kept him off the field on offense. He quickly fell out of the rotation and into the dog house which may keep from returning to the Eagles' roster again in 2014.
Overall Grade: F. Johnson had such a promising rookie year but fell flat on his face in 2013. He couldn't judge the ball well in the return game and too often returned kicks that he should've let go and passed on return opportunities he should've taken.
Jeremy Maclin: no stats available from 2013.
Maclin is back in Philadelphia for at least one more season after signing a new contract this past week. He has the potential to have a career best season in this offense as long as he can stay healthy and be on the field for every game.
He has the versatility to play all line-up all over the field and be a threat for yards after the catch every single time he has the ball in his hands. Many believe that as long as he can stay on the field, Maclin will be due a big payday following the 2014 season. Hopefully the Eagles can afford to keep him around even longer.
Arrelious Benn: no stats available from 2013.
When the Eagles acquired Arrelious Benn from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for just a 7th-round pick, many Eagles' fans were excited for the acquisition. It was one of the first moves of the Chip Kelly led regime and showed that the team was looking to improve their depth at the receiver position.
Once Jeremy Maclin went down, Benn was set to be one of the next men in line to replace him but sadly he suffered a torn ACL as well and was lost for the season. Benn is a great blocker and can line-up all over the field but he has had trouble staying healthy throughout his entire career. That will be the main question regarding Benn and his health might very well determine if he makes the roster or not in 2014.
Heading into the 2014 season, it appears as though the Eagles are set with their top three wide receivers being Jackson, Maclin and Cooper. But they can definitely use improvement at the end of the depth chart. They could potentially look for a big bodied receiver for the red zone that they are missing as well as an explosive threat with slot experience.
There aren't many players that standout in the free agent pool that the Eagles could target at wide reliever but there are a couple that caught my eye.
One name that comes to mind is former Raider, Jacoby Ford. He's not much of a threat as a receiver but could significantly upgrade the Eagles' kick return game. He averages 24.9 yards per kickoff return for his three year career as well as 4 career kickoff return touchdowns. Ford should come at a cheap price as well which could make him more appealing.
Ted Ginn is another player that the Eagles may take a look at in free agency. He has experience as a receiver and would also be an upgrade at the kickoff returner spot. The Panthers will likely re-sign him but there's a chance the Eagles will give him a look.
2014 NFL Draft:
Now here is where things will get interesting. The 2014 NFL Draft is so deep at the wide receiver position that it's going to be tough for the Eagles to pass on some of the talent out there. There are receivers of all different sizes and skill-sets in this draft and if the Eagles really stick to their best player available method, they may very well be drafting a talented receiver at some point in the draft.
Kelvin Benjamin is exactly what the Eagles are missing at the wide receiver position right now. He has a humongous frame at 6-5, 234 lbs. Benjamin was a consistent threat in the red zone for Florida State this past season and finished the season with over 1,000 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns.
Benjamin does have his weaknesses though with inconsistent hands and a tendancy to get lazy running his routes at times. Benjamin should appeal to Chip Kelly though because of his "big people beat up little people" mentality and Benjamin's great blocking ability. If he's there when the Eagles are picking in May, Benjamin may just be too good for the Eagles to pass up on.
Brandin Cooks is another player that would fit in perfectly with the Eagles' current roster. Cooks is the total opposite of Benjamin, standing at just 5-10, 186 lbs. But Cooks is a sure-handed, speedy receiver that can do it all. He led all of college football last year with 128 receptions to go along with 1,730 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
But Cooks isn't limited to just catching the ball and that's what makes him such an interesting target for the Eagles. Cooks also proved he could carry the ball in 2013 with 32 rushing attempts for 217 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. Cooks would be a lethal weapon in Kelly's uptempo offense and just the piece the Eagles need to give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.
That's all for Evaluating the Eagles: Part 3, Wide Receivers. Be sure to check out the rest of the series in the following days leading up to free agency!
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