Chip Kelly likes to say that the Eagles have an “equal opportunity offense”. He is open to running or passing. He doesn’t care who the ball gets thrown to. Kelly just wants to score points. He isn’t set in a particular way of getting that done. This is the key thing to remember when trying to figure out how the team will replace DeSean Jackson and his production.
Too many people have thought in a linear fashion. “The Eagles are nuts if they think some rookie can come in and replace DeSean.” The rookie will take DeSean’s roster spot, but his role in the offense will be addressed more creatively than that. If the Eagles get lucky and draft a WR that offers instant impact, great. But that won’t be the plan.
The first person to think about is Jeremy Maclin. I think people are overlooking him right now. Yes, he’s coming off a torn ACL. That’s a legitimate concern. We do have to remember that he tore his ACL last August. This wasn’t a midseason injury. Mac has had plenty of time to rehab and heal. The Eagles have been monitoring his progress carefully. They obviously feel good about him. If not, I doubt they would have tried to sign him to a 5-year deal a few weeks back. Also, you’d have to think his status had some role in the DeSean move.
Maclin isn’t as speedy or threatening as DeSean, but he is a more complete receiver. Mac runs better routes. He has better body control. He is bigger. He’s more of a Red Zone threat. The big issue with Mac is toughness. In 2011 and 2012, he wouldn’t block and he wouldn’t consistently work the middle of the field. I’ve seen Maclin do those things in the past, college and pro. I’m not sure why he went soft for 2 years. That won’t work in Kelly’s offense. I think Kelly will push the right buttons and get Maclin to be more of a physical presence. He won’t suddenly turn into Anquan Boldin, but I’m guessing that Self-Tacklin’ Jeremy Maclin will be a thing of the past.
I don’t think Maclin has reached his ceiling. He’s been consistently productive and he’s flashed big time ability on occasion, but I still think he can take his game up a notch. I don’t know if that will happen, but I think having a coach push him more aggressively will certainly increase the chances of that happening.
Kelly isn’t just replacing DeSean. Jason Avant is gone as well. Maclin will play some on the outside, but will also see some reps in the slot. I expect Darren Sproles to see regular reps in the slot. He lined up out of the backfield on a regular basis for the Saints in 2013.
I also think Kelly will use more 2-TE sets. When that happens, you are only going to have 2 WRs on the field. There could be more 3-TE sets, which would keep only a single WR on the field. Kelly used more 2-TE sets down the stretch last year. Zach Ertz started the season slowly, but became more of a factor and that affected Kelly’s use of his skill players. Ertz can line up in the slot or even out wide.
The Eagles will get Arrelious Benn back this spring. Like Mac, he tore his ACL last summer. Benn isn’t a player you can count on since he has never been an impact player in the NFL (just 24 starts in 4 years), but the Eagles do think he can be a good role player. Brad Smith is also returning. He’ll have a chance to play a full season and could be a good role player.
And the Eagles will draft at least one WR. They’ll likely do this with an early pick. We don’t know if Kelly will go for a speedster, hoping to replace that element of DeSean’s game, or if Kelly will go for more of a big, physical player. There are arguments to be made on both sides.
I’ll write more about Jackson’s speed and the impact it does or doesn’t have on the offense. Talking about his role is a post of its own. For now I wanted to concentrate on the personnel side of things.
The Eagles still have plenty of weapons. This isn’t going to be like TO leaving and Greg Lewis is suddenly asked to be an offensive weapon. The Eagles should still be able to move the ball and score plenty of points. Kelly is a smart coach. Nick Foles is a talented QB. There are good runners and good receivers.
DeSean didn’t make this offense go. He made it more explosive, but he wasn’t the key to the Eagles having such a productive season. The Eagles should have enough firepower to still be very good on offense.
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Some of you are upset at the thought of DeSean going to the Skins. I’d prefer he go elsewhere as well, but it won’t send me over the edge to see him sign there. I always prefer ex-Eagles to go to the AFC so I can enjoy watching them play without having to think of how they are affecting the Eagles.