There is, as we look at the current roster and imagine a depth chart for the wide receivers, a lot of diversity and plenty of talent. The Eagles have a group that offers size, speed and versatility. Having a healthy Jeremy Maclin back on the field gives the offense production, consistency and a fine threat in the red zone. Maclin is one of eight NFL players to record at least 55 receptions and 750 yards in each of his first four seasons.
Maclin is making strong progress in his recovery from the knee injury that kept him out of the 2013 season, and he is in line to become a go-to player in this offense. Maclin appeared to have made nice progress learning the new offense prior to his injury last summer, and he won’t have any problem jumping right back in when the post-draft training sessions begin.
“Mac is on track,” said head coach Chip Kelly at the NFL Annual Meeting last week. “He’s been at the facility working every day. It was a big blow losing him.”
Penciled in, from this perspective, on the other side of Maclin is Riley Cooper, who signed a five-year contract prior to free agency to remain with the Eagles. Cooper averaged 17.8 yards per catch in 2013 and he scored 8 touchdowns, establishing himself as a viable option down the field and in catch-and-run situations. Cooper is an excellent blocker in the running game – as is Maclin – and both have the versatility to move around the formation.
There are opportunities behind those two players in this offense. The Eagles released both Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson, retained Maclin and Cooper prior to free agency, and the natural question is how the Eagles can get more production and have the kind of depth they desire from the wide receiver group.
Who steps up? In no particular order, the Eagles have some candidates. Damaris Johnson has the skill set to fit into the equation in the offense – good quickness, capable hands and elusiveness – and he must rebound after his dip in game reps in 2013 after a promising rookie campaign. Jeff Maehl joined the Eagles midway through Chip Kelly’s first season and caught 4 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Veteran Brad Smith played in six games last season and had a couple of catches. He’s going to benefit greatly by having a full offseason to prepare the way the Eagles need, and by being part of the rotation in the training sessions and having the offense down pat. Smith could emerge as a jack-of-all-trades player for the offense.
Maybe a healthy Arrelious Benn steps up to the challenge. He was acquired in a trade during the offseason prior to the 2013 season after playing in 37 games with the Tampa Bay over a span of three seasons, and Benn has good size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and he’s got big hands and toughness. Benn said after the 2013 season ended that he expects to be fully healthy for training camp, and the coaches will take a long look at him.
A trio of younger hopefuls hopes to impress when the time comes. B.J. Cunningham is another bigger-body receiver who had a taste of the active roster last season – Cunningham was active for two regular season games – and knows the offense. Will Murphy was here in 2013 on the practice squad and Ifeanyi Momah, all 6-foot-7, 239 pounds of him, is back for another chance after playing for the team in training camp and the preseason last year.
Could the Eagles use the draft to supplement group? Sure. General manager Howie Roseman is not alone when he speaks highly of the wide receiver depth of talent in the draft, so it’s entirely possible the Eagles could add to the position during and after the draft.
There is a grand plan here, and Kelly wants the offense to be better than it was a year ago when the Eagles set franchise records for points scored and yards gained and led the NFL in both rushing yards and big plays (defined as 20 yards or more). The Eagles are going to move their tight ends around the formation and continue to make them weapons, and there isn’t a team in the league with a better group of running backs who can help in the passing game. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if both LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles see some reps on the field at the same time, stretching the ability of defenses to match up in space.
The picture here isn’t necessarily complete. Judge not now, but when the draft is over and we can further assess a group that is being counted on heavily to make the Eagles more explosive and productive than they were a season ago.