Every well-run company does a yearly inventory check. In this eight-part series, I will break down, position-by-position, where the Eagles stand, how long-term their current situation is and the likelihood of a draft pick being spent on that position.
Next up: The Receivers.
The Starters: After cutting DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin becomes the team’s de-facto #1 wide receiver. Maclin is actually one of the more interesting players to watch in 2014. Most people don’t realize that he’s only 25 years old. We’ve known for years that Mac has a pretty solid floor. We saw that his rookie year when he posted a 56-773-4TD line. The question is, how high is his ceiling? Maclin has decent size, he’s fairly fast, has pretty good hands, but isn’t really great at any one aspect of the position. In his career year, he put up 70 catches for 964 yards and 10 TDs. Pretty good numbers, but really not #1 wideout good. That said, we’ve never seen him in Chip Kelly’s offense.
One argument for Maclin is the surprising development of Riley Cooper. After a career 47-835-8TD season in 2013, Coop signed a long-term contract and appears to be locked in as an Eagle for the foreseeable future. Cooper has great size, showed an ability to make plays downfield and showed a great rapport with Nick Foles. However, if the Eagles do add a wideout in the draft, somebody will have to play the slot. That spot plays different in Kelly’s offense that other systems, but it’s still a role that Cooper/Maclin would have to learn. Another concern, a good number of Cooper’s big plays came from Jackson taking away the safety help. How will Cooper fair with the added attention?
At Tight End, the Eagles figure to play a number of 2-TE sets again in 2014, although it would appear that stalwart Brent Celek’s time in green may be coming to an end. Celek posted his worst numbers since 2009 and at 29 years old, appears to have lost a step. He gradually lost snaps to Zach Ertz last year as the year went on.
Speaking of Ertz, the second-year pro looks like a candidate for a breakout year. Ertz has terrific size and posted strong rookie numbers (36-469-4TDs). Ertz’s biggest issues thus far appear to be consistency and blocking. The former should come with experience. The latter is the only reason why Celek will still steal some snaps away from him. Still, Ertz looks like yet another strong piece from Chip Kelly’s inaugural draft. Grade: B-
The Backups: As of now, the cupboard is pretty bare. Jason Avant was a terrific Eagle, but simply did not make sense on this team anymore. The only WRs on the roster with any meaningful experience are Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl, Damaris Johnson and Arrelious Benn.
However, Smith turned 30 and only had 2 catches last year. Maehl is limited and has 9 career catches. Johnson had a nice 2012 season, but was basically out of the mix in 2013. Benn is coming off a big injury, and was given up on by Tampa Bay before coming to Philadelphia. If the season started today, these four would probably be battling for three backup spots. But truthfully, I expect two or three rookies to be added to the mix here.
Beyond those four, the Eagles bring back former MSU standout B.J. Cunningham, token Oregon Duck Will Murphy and big-fast-guy-with-no-actual-football-ability Ifeanyi Momah. Cunningham probably has a shot to earn a roster spot, but I’d be surprised.
Frankly, RB Darren Sproles is probably the team’s number #3 WR right now.
At TE, James Casey is the main backup. Casey was seen as a disappointment in his first year in Philly, but he played well on special teams and frankly, the emergence of Ertz probably ate up most of his opportunities on offense. Casey is probably as strong a #3 TE as you’ll find in the league.
Emil Igwenagu is a practice body at this point. Grade: D
Long-term viability: With the exception of Celek, this core is pretty young. Ertz looks like a keeper. Cooper should be around for a while. But beyond that, there’s a lot of question marks. I think this is Celek’s last year with the Eagles, and Maclin is totally up in the air. Aside from the concerns stemming from his ACL-injury, it’s just unclear whether Maclin will fit into the offense, where he will fit into the offense, how much money he’ll be worth going into Free Agency and what other pieces are going to be in the mix. I truly believe the long-term viability of the receiving corps hinges on this year’s rookie class. Grade: C
Draft Likelihood: WR is a major need. The Eagles could easily spend their top pick on a WR, and I’d be surprised if one of the first three picks wasn’t used on a wideout. Additionally, I think the team could use a late-rounder on another WR for depth purposes. I don’t think the team will draft a TE, although an UDFA will probably be added to the mix. Grade: A+