With the Philadelphia Eagles merely days away from entering training camp, questions that have been raised all off-season will finally start to be answered. One that has been weighing heavy is how much of an impact will Jeremy Maclin have this season? With the loss of Desean Jackson to the Washington Redskins, the Eagles have managed to gather a nice core of receivers without a designated go to option. As one of the veteran wide receivers on the roster, Maclin appears to be the most logical fit to assume Jackson’s old role.
Now before one starts assuming that things will run just as smoothly, if not better, in the second year of coach Chip Kelly’s offense, you have to remember that Maclin is relatively new to the system. After being injured during the opening days of training camp last season, Maclin has never actually played in this dynamic offense. That alone means he’ll have to adjust accordingly.
Fortunately for Maclin, he is exactly the type of receiver this offense is made for. Assuming he’s made a full recovery from his torn ACL, he’ll provide a speedy possession option that can rotate between the outside and slot positions. At six foot tall he’ll always be at a disadvantage against taller defensive backs, but he’s proven that he’s capable of swaying the odds in his favor. His footwork and ability to route run has always been an asset to the Eagles, and he was always more comfortable doing those two things than Jackson was.
The most glaring knock against Maclin right now would have to be his durability. He missed all of last season due to an ACL tear, and there were red flags about his health even before then. In 2012, despite only missing one game, Maclin was often rattled and forced to sit out at times during the season. None of the hits he took on the field proved to be significant injuries, but watching a player get taken out of the game several possessions at a time is disheartening. Whether it was an issue of bad conditioning or just weak durability in general, his health will be under a microscope throughout the season. The benefit of Kelly’s offense is that it creates spacing that allows its receivers to spread the field and avoid major impact in the process. It’s very possible the change in offensive philosophies will actually increase Maclin’s durability and keep him on the field.
If that is indeed the case, then Maclin could very well be on tap for a career year. To date, he’s only had one season where he’s had over 70 receptions, and has never eclipsed the 1,000+ yards receiving mark in a season. If last season was the beginning of a trend, then Maclin will have the biggest breakout on this Eagles offense. Cooper and Jackson both set career marks with quarterback Nick Foles last season, and a more comfortable Foles should carry over well with Maclin on hand.
Cooper may be the more reliable option right now in Philadelphia, but Maclin can exploit defensive schemes in more deceptive ways. His ability to get under coverage will warrant him plenty of targets. As long as he can stay on the field, there is no reason to think that he can’t accomplish a 1,000 yard season with at least 65 catches. Maybe those reception numbers seem a bit low for a primary option, but the thing is right now there is no one primary option. Cooper, Huff, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, and the tight-end contingent of Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, will all get their share of targets.
The point is that Maclin will not only get his targets, but be placed in positions where he’ll be able to make the most out of them. Every time McCoy and Sproles line up in the backfield together, defenses will be forced to switch plans and allow new opportunities for Maclin to capitalize. We saw the potential of that offense last season, and with Maclin added, there is reason to believe it can be enhanced.
Expect big games from Maclin, but be patient. He will have an adjustment period, and will certainly fall into old habits at times as he mentally returns to the game. Still he’s always been a high IQ player that can just flat out catch in coverage. In his favor, he’ll have plenty of players beside him that will help him transition back into playing mode, and on a one-year contract, Maclin will be looking to prove that he’s still a player that can make a major impact in this game.