It’s 2013, and some of the shine has already worn off of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who both had superb sophomore campaigns. Suddenly, the Eagles aren’t quite as elite as the position as many once considered them to be. Chip Kelly wants the Eagles to be a run-first offense for the first time in over a decade, so the receivers’ opportunities figure to decrease. Kelly’s infatuation with tight ends is also likely to cost Jackson and Maclin, at least in fantasy football leagues. On the other hand, the Eagles receivers could thrive in space and might make more big plays if opposing defenses are more focused on stopping the running game. Kelly has a plan for Jackson and Maclin, but it remains a mystery to Eagles fans.
Who makes the team:
Jason Avant, Arrelious Benn, Riley Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, and Jeremy Maclin
I’m including six players on my final roster, but that number could easily be five. Jackson and Maclin are locks. Riley Cooper is a bigger body who can contribute as a blocker on the outside. He’s also an outstanding gunner on the punt team. Arrelious Benn is another big outside receiver who is the best leaper of the bunch. He is explosive after the catch, could win the kick return job, and will win jump ball situations down the field. I put both of their odds of making the team at around 80%. Damaris Johnson is excellent in space, a dangerous punt returner, and young enough to make significant improvements in his second season. He’s a slot receiver who could take some carries out of the backfield, but is severely undersized and won’t help as a blocker. Jason Avant is the more polished slot receiver and can still be a dependable 3rd down target, but his time is running out in Philadelphia. He’s not explosive in space and Chip Kelly seems to favor tight end types like James Casey in the slot over pure receivers. I’m betting on his special teams prowess and sticky hands to save his roster spot for one more season.
Who starts week 1:
DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin
Jackson and Maclin are clearly the two most gifted outside receivers on the squad, and they will almost certainly enter the 2013 season as the starters. Nobody else on the roster can match the speed or separation skills of Jackson or Maclin.
How the position stacks up:
The Eagles have talent, but it will be interesting to find out how Chip Kelly envisions west coast receivers in his system. At Oregon, Kelly threw a lot of screens and a lot of deep balls off of play action, but also demanded that his receivers block. Jackson and Maclin will thrive when they get the ball in space quickly or when they can sneak behind the defense on play action passes. They may not be the impact players in the run game that Kelly wants, though. This offseason, Kelly acquired James Casey and Zach Ertz, who are both athletic tight ends who are comfortable operating in the slot. If Casey and Ertz are his preferred slot receivers, their arrivals in Philadelphia could signal the end for Jason Avant and potentially Damaris Johnson. Kelly will call fewer passes than Reid and will force the ball to tight ends more, so his receivers figure to be underutilized.
If Kelly does indeed shift the emphasis from receivers to backs and tight ends, he may not be willing to pay Jeremy Maclin when his contract expires at the end of the season or DeSean Jackson, who will be due $34.5 million over the last three years of his deal. The Eagles will be able to get big plays from the receiver position, but the long-term futures of all the receivers on the current roster is in serious doubt.