Before free agency opened in March, the Eagles fanbase — myself included — clamored for Corey Davis. The team was depleted of competent talent at the wide receiver position, but that wasn't the only factor in the preference for Davis to be an Eagle. Many draft pundits and fans alike likened Davis to a familiar (should be) Hall-of-Famer, in Terrell Owens. A lot of Eagles fans have mixed feelings on Owens. Some applaud his valiant efforts to play in the Super Bowl and post over 100 yards receiving on a broken foot, during a season in which he posted 1,200 yards receiving to go along with 14 touchdowns; others disdainfully remember Owens as a player that derailed the potential of future playoff runs with selfish contract demands.
No matter how you view Owens, his impact on the team in 2004 was undeniable. The Eagles were able to win the NFC playoffs without his assistance, but he made the team better. Donovan McNabb had the best year of his career, becoming the first QB in NFL history to throw over 30 touchdowns while throwing less than 10 interceptions — a mark that has been eclipsed numerous times since then. McNabb did all of that in only 15 games, and you could go as far as to say 14 as he only threw three passes in Week 16. McNabb would go on to throw less than 20 touchdowns every year after 2004 up until 2008 when the receiver talent was replenished. A disclaimer is that McNabb missed 13 games total in between 2004 and 2008. A notable acquisition in 2008 for the Eagles was rookie wide receiver Desean Jackson. Jackson’s rookie year saw the Eagles recapture the magic of the early 21st century teams that ran off four straight NFC Championship appearances. You can draw the conclusion that good receivers only add to a quarterback’s confidence, which isn't to say McNabb lacked any, but it certainly doesn't hurt. A fun fact is that Jackson’s rookie year, he posted the fourth highest receiving yard total, 912, during McNabb’s tenure, the other three being Owens in 2004, Kevin Curtis in 2007 and Desean Jackson’s 2009 campaign, and all three of those performances were the only 1,000 yard receiving seasons while McNabb was in Philadelphia.
Playing off of the fact that the Eagles only had three seasons in which a receiver broke 1,000 yards, it’s fair to ask if recently signed free agent Alshon Jeffery will be the best Eagle receiver since Owens. I mentioned the receiving yard seasons posted while McNabb was here, but some of the most productive ones came after the team moved on, and they came from Jeremy Maclin and Desean Jackson. Jackson and Maclin posted 1,332 and 1,318 respectively, but those numbers were also produced in a Chip Kelly offense that was noted for its pace amongst other things. Jeffery’s best year came in 2013 when he took the league by storm, catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. That yardage total would eclipse Mike Quick’s single season record of 1,409, much less the outputs of Jackson and Maclin. Much like Maclin and Jackson had the Kelly offense, Jeffery had his own benefits in Chicago. Chip Kelly’s offense was making headlines, but so was Marc Trestman’s in Chicago, where Brandon Marshall had 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013. Add in a stretch where Josh McCown had a 13/1 touchdown/interception ratio and Martellus Bennett/Matt Forte, it becomes easier to find open looks or capitalize on the surrounding talent. Production in Chicago dipped all around the board in 2014, but Jeffery still produced 85 catches for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns.
We deem Jeffery the most complete receiver Philadelphia has had since Owens, and that’s not wrong to do. Neither Maclin nor Jackson possessed the combination of abilities such as winning at the catchpoint, being a reliable redzone target and winning so easily with physicality off the line. All three players were able to separate down the field and present themselves as deep threats, but Jeffery is the complete package. He’s the complete package, but will he be the best receiver? Desean Jackson was incredibly productive during his tenure in Philadelphia, posting 1,000 yards receiving in three of his six seasons with the Eagles. In addition to that being one more than Jeffery has posted in his career — Jackson has posted two more since leaving Philadelphia — Jeffery has missed his fair share of games, but are the injury concerns as big of an issue as we’re led to believe? Jeffery has played in 63 out of 80 possible games since being drafted, with only 13 of those being lost to injury the other four due to a PED suspension in 2016.
Jeffery’s most recent injury occurred in the 2015 season when he missed seven games with a hamstring issue and the other six games lost to injury were in 2013 when a broken hand and knee injuries plagued him. It’s a little unreasonable to go over ifs and hypotheticals, but if Jeffery doesn't get suspended in 2016, he plays 16 games in 2013, 14, and 16. It would be irresponsible of me if I didn't mention that the hamstring issues have lingered and even limited him on occasion when he has played. To put Alshon’s games lost to injury in perspective, Dez Bryant has missed 10 games over the last two seasons alone. If the hamstring issues can be minimized, then I really do like Jeffery to play like a Top 10 receiver this year.
Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were exciting receivers that fans could rely on to make big plays downfield. After a year of that explosiveness being absent, Alshon Jeffery is a chance to renew that excitement and bring even more of it to Doug Pederson’s offense. Will Alshon Jeffery be the Eagles best receiver since Terrell Owens? It’s too early to definitively say, although we can draw our own conclusions based on game tape and body of work. I will say this, if Owens’ 2004 season is any indication of what a receiver of that magnitude can provide for a quarterback, then Carson Wentz will take that next step.