Could Jeremy Maclin replace DeSean Jackson?

Like it or not, it looks as if DJax won't be back. Can JMac fill his shoes?

However you feel about trading DeSean Jackson -- and let's face it, you hate the idea -- it looks pretty likely. Even DeSean thinks so. So that leaves the Eagles with Jeremy Maclin (plus whoever they might draft) to fill the #1 WR slot. I like Riley Cooper but he's simply not a #1 WR, and I think he'd say the same.

How will Maclin compare? Of course we won't know the final answer until we see how he has recovered from his ACL tear last year. The Eagles, who know best, seem pretty confident about his rehabilitiation. Injuries aside, there are some reasons to be optimistic.

From 2010-2012, DeSean had more yards and yards per catch, but Maclin racked up more touchdowns and first downs, even as the #2 receiver. The statistic that really leaps out is percent of targets caught. During those three years, Maclin hauled in 60.3% of his passes; DeSean only 52.4%. Granted, you might expect a lower percentage on the longer passes Jackson received, but not that much lower.

Last summer, before Maclin's injury and the debut of Chip's pro offense, NFL.com did a review of the NFL's Top 40 Wide Receivers. DeSean and Maclin were not in the first tier. They weren't in the second tier, or even the third. Both WRs were in the 4th tier of wide receivers, which was titled "Prove It." DeSean was last among the ten 4th-tier receivers at #31, and Maclin was fourth at #25. The only commentary on either said " I might have underrated Eagles Maclin and Jackson on this list. They both have top-20 talent, but they spend too much time in the trainers' room [injured]."

The biggest reason for optimism is Maclin's upside. He's two years younger than Jackson, and poised to break out in Chip Kelly's offense. Maclin played in a spread offense at Missouri and was touted as an explosive deep threat who was dangerous in space, though Andy Reid never capitalized on that.

Kelly asks WRs to learn every receiving position and run diverse routes, something that DeSean struggled with. Jackson's strong year had a lot to do with Kelly's offense -- Riley Cooper did well too -- but I expect Maclin to make far better use of the new scheme. This offense requires intelligent and open-minded players. Maclin scored an unusually high 25 on his Wonderlic test, vs. an average of 18 for WRs (and 11 for Hakeem Nicks). Jackson played hookie during his Wonderlic.


Maclin also connects better with Nick Foles. DeSean had much better results last year when Michael Vick was the starting QB, including 3 of his 5 100+ yard games. With Nick Foles behind the shotgun, Riley Cooper had more receiving yardage than Jackson in 8 of 11 games (H/T to Brandon Lee Gowton for the chart behind that stat). Maclin is the opposite. In 2012, his yards per game rose from 49.9 with Vick at QB, to 68.0 with Foles despite the decimated front line and injuries to Shady and Jackson.

Downsides? The nickname "Self-Tacklin' Maclin" is disturbing (if funny), but let's face it, DeSean doesn't plow over too many safeties either. You have to worry about further injuries, of course. Overall though, his intangibles look good. NFL.com's draft profile said "High effort player. Courageous over the middle. Blocks downfield. Showed mental toughness in returning after a horrific knee injury in 2006." That downfield blocking will be essential to his success in the Eagles' current system.

DeSean had a career year in 2013. He was 9th in the NFL with 1,332 yards, 9 TDs and 60 first downs, and forced defenses to respect his speed as a vertical threat. You've heard all this before.

There are a couple of ways that these statistics overstate DeSean's value, though. Yes, he was 9th in the NFl, but a lot of receivers were close. You can go down to #16 (Anquan Boldin) and they all have similar numbers: 7-12 TDs, 1,200-1,400 yards, 60+ first downs, 400-600 YAC. Jackson has good yardage, but he's at the bottom of that group for TDs, first downs and YAC.

Jackson's big game production is questionable, too. He finished the year with 28, 29 and 53 yards in three crucial contests against Chicago, Dallas and New Orleans. He was outperformed by Riley Cooper in each game (and by Brent Celek in the first two). DJax was a serious threat as a punt returner in his first three seasons, but he averaged only 5 yards a kick last year.

A lot of Jackson's success in 2013 was due to Chip Kelly's spread offense, which made his game less one-dimensional. Yes, Djax had 60 first downs last year, but he never topped 43 under Andy Reid, who built his pass-heavy offense around the WR. And while it's true that DeSean opened up the run game for LeSean McCoy, Shady also pulled safeties and linebackers away from Jackson. This statistic is astonishing: DeSean's percentage of targets caught rose from 52.3% under Andy Reid to 65.1% last year. At the old percentage, Jackson would have totaled just 66 receptions for 1,073 yards (instead of 82 for 1,332).

Keep in mind that Chip Kelly never had elite receivers at Oregon, and they still did pretty well. Jeff Maehl was his best deep threat. I heard what you just thought, and that's exactly the point. Maehl is not exactly ripping up the NFL but he still holds the record for longest pass reception in a college National Championship Game. (The Ducks' Josh Huff, entering the league this year, has a ton of talent that he just began to realize last season after dealing with some truly awful family circumstances during his college career. Keep an eye on him.)

It's tough to move on from a player who has produced so much over the years. Heck, the only actual football content in the movie "Silver Linings Playbook" was Robert DeNiro chanting "DeSean Jackson" over and over like the Holy Name of God. Maclin won't produce another Miracle in the Meadowlands this year. But neither will DeSean.

Losing DeSean will hurt -- emotionally. But on the field, Maclin (and Sproles and Ertz and Celek and Cooper and Brandin Cooks*) should be able to fill the gap.

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