There were a lot of questions about the Eagles wide receivers heading into this season. DeSean Jackson and his game-breaking speed moved down the road to Washington. Who would scare defenses and stretch the field? Jason Avant, the team's most reliable receiver and best blocking wideout, was let go. Who would Nick Foles look to in key third down situations?
The Eagles brought back Jeremy Maclin, but he was coming off a torn ACL. Riley Cooper was coming off a career year, but there were questions about whether he could repeat that success. Rookie Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff were added to the mix, but rookie receivers are erratic and there was no guarantee how quickly they would play like NFL receivers. Veterans Brad Smith and Jeff Maehl were coming back as role players.
A glass half-full person saw the potential of this group. A glass half-empty person saw too many question marks. So what do we make of this group at midseason?
Jeremy Maclin is having a breakout season. He is in the Top 5 in the NFL in a bunch of key receiving categories and is on pace to shatter his career bests in just about every category. He already has a career high in catches of 40 or more yards (5). That answers the question about who will replace Jackson as the deep threat. Maclin doesn't have Jackson's type of speed, but he is fast enough to get behind cornerbacks and deliver big plays.
Beyond the numbers, which are incredibly impressive, Maclin gets style points as well. He is making tough catches along the sideline on almost a weekly basis. Maclin is making catches in key situations. He is more physical than he's ever been. Maclin is working the middle of the field and no longer avoids contact. Also, he's done a good job as a run blocker. That wasn't always the case in the past.
Cooper is not having a great year. He is on pace for a career high in catches, but his yards are down and he's only got one touchdown. Cooper delivered a lot of big plays in 2013 and they have largely been absent this year. He did have one 50-yard catch in the Cardinals game.
I'm not sure what the reason is for the drop-off with Cooper. He and Foles worked well together last year on deep balls. It doesn't seem like as many are going his way this year and they sure haven't been connecting. Cooper is to blame for some of the struggles. He has two dropped touchdowns this year, including a potential game-winner at San Francisco. Cooper has played his best football in the last month. Maybe he simply got off to a slow start.
Matthews has taken over Avant's slot position. He hasn't been a star, but he sure doesn't look like a rookie. Avant had 38 catches and two touchdowns last year. Matthews already has 32 catches and three touchdowns in just eight games. The touchdowns all came in the red zone, an area where Matthews size is a real benefit. You can see where Matthews is going to be a good starter, if not a star, down the road. He can make tough grabs. He uses his size well and is dangerous after the catch. Matthews blocking is erratic and he drops too many passes, but he has outstanding potential.
Huff is more of a mystery man. An injury has limited him to just four games so far. Huff has made some mistakes in those games. He had a critical fumble in the loss to Arizona. He tipped a ball that was intercepted last week. Huff should have made that catch. He had a drop in the Giants game that gave them an extra 40 seconds to try and avoid the shutout. A lot of Eagles fans are very frustrated with Huff right now.
He does have five catches for 42 yards. He fought for a couple of first downs in Sunday's win. You can see his toughness and that he doesn't go down easily. Huff has the potential to be a good run-after-catch weapon. He has also helped as a kickoff returner. I think Huff will be fine long term. Right now he's trying to fit in and do what he can. Huff is very competitive and he's not used to being one of the last options on a team.
Smith has been hurt and only has one catch this year. The Eagles were hoping to use him more than that. Maehl has five catches and is an effective role player.
Maclin is only here on a one-year deal. The Eagles will hopefully lock him up prior to the start of free agency. If they keep him and have Matthews and Huff, that is a solid trio. Cooper's play in the second half will affect his future. He needs to pick up the pace if he's going to stick around. His salary jumps quite a bit after this year. Cooper needs to show he can be a reliable, productive starter. If not, the Eagles may look for outside help. They did inquire about Vincent Jackson recently. I think they were bargain hunting and the Bucs rejected a cheap offer.
If the Eagles have Maclin and Matthews, they can find the pieces to go around those guys.