If I asked you who’s going to lead the Eagles in receiving in 2014, what would your answer be?
A few weeks ago, you probably wouldn’t have had a problem answering that question. With DeSean Jackson now out of Philadelphia, you’re most likely not nearly as confident in your answer as you would have been back then. If someone asked me the same question, I’d answer enthusiastically – Jeremy Maclin.
Many might question why I would be excited about Maclin’s prospects at this point in his career. After all, he’s coming off a torn ACL which caused him to miss the all of 2013 and he’s never had a 1,000 yard season. I believe there are actually five reasons for all dynasty owners to be optimistic, however.
Reason #1: Pedigree
When Maclin entered the league, most had expectations he’d immediately become an impact player for the Eagles. A dynamic playmaker at Missouri, he was a threat to score from anywhere on the field, no matter if he was as a runner, receiver or returner. In his two college seasons, he caught 182 passes for 2,315 yards and 22 touchdowns while also contributing 668 rushing yards and six more scores on just 91 carries. On top of those numbers, he also contributed 2,049 kick return yards and 577 more on punt returns while scoring five more times on special teams. In total, Maclin produced 5,609 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns in just 28 college games.
College success doesn’t always translate to Sundays, but Maclin hasn’t been the disappointment he’s been made out to be by many. Let’s take a look at his numbers since being drafted 19th overall by the Eagles in the 2009 NFL Draft.
After a quality rookie season, he led the team in receptions and touchdowns in 2010. Many looked at Maclin as a potential breakout candidate entering 2011, but a mysterious virus that attacked his immune system created a health scare and caused rapid weight loss, forcing him to miss much of training camp. Although he recovered in time for the season opener, it (as well as a hamstring and shoulder injuries) caused him to miss time and his numbers to slip ever so slightly.
There were expectations by some of a possible breakout season from Maclin in 2012 as well, but the Eagles offense was anemic. The fact he hauled in 69 passes and seven touchdowns was a testament to his ability, not the contrary.
When we look closely at his numbers, it’s easy to point out the negatives such as his failure to reach 1,000 yards or surpass 70 catches in a season, but what may be missed are the positives. While he hasn’t been consistently great, he has been consistent. He posted between 63 and 70 catches in each season between 2010 and 2012 and over that three year period, only 20 wide receivers caught more than the 22 touchdowns Maclin posted.
Over the years, Maclin showed flashes of the ability that made him a highly touted draft pick with the potential to be a number one wide out in the NFL, but never realized his full potential.
The same could have been said about Jackson a year ago. Fast forward through a year with Chip Kelly and Jackson became everything his dynasty owners always wanted him to be. If healthy, Maclin could do the same under Kelly in 2014.
Reason #2: The Eagles’ Roster
As of right now, Maclin is penciled in as the number one receiver in Kelly’s high octane offense for good reason. While Riley Cooper has his strengths and seems to be a favorite of Nick Foles, he doesn’t have the speed, quickness or route running skills to command double teams and take defensive attention away from other playmakers.
The only other receivers currently under contract with the Eagles to log receptions in 2013 were Jeff Maehl (who caught four passes) and the combination of Brad Smith and Damaris Johnson who hauled in two each. Johnson certainly looks like the type of receiver who could develop into a fantasy asset in Kelly’s offense, but he hasn’t showed enough to this point to get an opportunity and doesn’t have the size or overall skills to become a true number one wideout. The rest of the wide receiver depth chart includes names like Arrelious Benn, B.J. Cunningham, Will Murphy and Ifeanyi Momah, none of which played a down last season. Needless to say, Maclin is the only receiver currently on the Eagles’ roster with the overall skills to take over for Jackson as Foles’ go-to guy.
While nobody knows exactly how Maclin will fit into Kelly’s high-paced scheme, reports out of Philadelphia last summer indicated Maclin was very enthusiastic about his potential role in the offense. That was with Jackson. Imagine his anticipation of potentially being the top target on the team now that Jackson is gone.
For Kelly and the Eagles’ front office to be willing to give up the number one option in their passing game for no compensation, most would think they have a plan for a replacement. I’d be willing to bet that plan starts with Maclin.
Reason #3: Age
Although it may seem like Maclin has been in the league for as long as Tom Brady, he’s entering only his sixth season with the Eagles. Granted, he lost one of those seasons due to a torn ACL, but he’s still relatively young. Believe it or not, Maclin is only 25 years old (he turns 26 in May.) For comparisons sake, dynasty owners should keep in mind that former Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who recently had a pre-draft visit with the Eagles, is already 23.
Reason #4: Motivation
Maclin entered this off-season as an unrestricted free agent. Rumors swirled that multiple teams were interested in signing him to a multi-year deal, but he insisted he wanted to stay in Philadelphia to play in Kelly’s offense. Instead of testing the free agent market, he decided to sign a one-year contract worth as much as $6 million before another team had the chance to make him an offer.
As a general rule, it’s dangerous for fantasy owners to set high expectations for players just because they’re in a contract year. Far too often we hope the financial motivation of a new contract pushes a player to a big season, but we’re disappointed when it doesn’t.
The difference between most contract years and Maclin’s is that most (not all) happen due to a previous deal ending and the team not willing to invest in the player. Maclin chose to sign a “prove it” contract and revisit a long term deal a year from now. It looks to me that he’s betting on himself to have a breakout season – I tend to like players who bet on themselves.
Reason #5: Dynasty Cost
Cecil Shorts, Mike Wallace, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and seven rookie receivers – that’s who’s currently being selected ahead of Maclin in dynasty startup drafts. According to that data, there are 48 wideouts who dynasty owners prefer over Maclin, making him a WR5 – that’s a price all dynasty owners should be willing to pay for a potential number one receiver in one of the best offenses in the league.
For those looking to add a receiver via trade this off-season, Maclin makes for an excellent target. His value is so low on the trade market that he’s being added as a throw in at times. Case in point.
I recently saw a deal where a dynasty owner was deep at running back, but was desperately trying to add a tight end due to the retirement of Tony Gonzalez and injury to Jermichael Finley. He tried shopping his excess tailbacks with no luck. Another owner mentioned he was interested in Michael Crabtree (his WR3) and was willing to give up Kyle Rudolph to fill his tight end need. When he responded saying he couldn’t give up a receiver due to his lack of depth at the position, the other owner added Maclin to ease his uncertainties to make the deal Crabtree for Rudolph and Maclin. It was an easy “yes” after that.
Any player with an ADP of 102 in dynasty startups obviously has flaws and Maclin isn’t an exception.
Many look at the multiple ACL surgeries (he also had one as a freshman in college) on his right knee as well as his constant battles with nagging injuries throughout his professional career as a reason to stay away. Others point out the multiple years of expectations of a breakout only to be disappointed as the reason to steer clear of Maclin. There’s also the possibility the Eagles bring in a talented rookie pass catcher in the first two rounds of the draft to compete with him for targets which turns off some.
While all that is true, I believe the chance to buy the top receiver in one of the premiere offenses in the league for such a low price is too good to pass up. The potential reward far outweighs the risk in my opinion.
It seems to me Maclin was made to play in Kelly’s fast-paced, big play offense. His college production as well as his flashes of brilliance in Philadelphia suggest he could flourish in the system and if healthy, finally realize his potential as a high-end WR2 for fantasy owners.
So, I have to ask, who do you think will lead the Eagles in receiving this year?
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