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Offseason Preview: Wide Receiver

Posted Jan 10, 2013

Next up in our Offseason Preview series, we take a look at the playmakers on the outside ...

End Of Season Depth Chart: The Eagles' number one receiver, DeSean Jackson, finished the season on injured reserve after suffering fractured ribs in the team's 11th game of the season, but all was not lost for the dynamic wideout. In his first season after securing a long-term contract, Jackson was the most explosive and consistent receiver on the Eagles through those first 11 games. His 45 receptions and 700 yards receiving were both tops on the Eagles at the time and his 15.6 yards per reception placed him 13th on the NFL list at season's end.

Jackson's starting wide receiver compatriot Jeremy Maclin came on in Jackson's absence, averaging 5.6 catches for 70.6 yards in the season's final games. That marked a significant improvement over Maclin's first 11 games (he missed one game because of injury), when he averaged 3.7 catches for 45.8 yards per game. His cumulative season numbers marked the second-best of his four-year career, behind only an impressive sophomore season. Maclin also continued to thrive in terms of hitting the end zone, as his seven receiving touchdowns were more than double those of any other Eagle. Maclin's 22 receiving touchdowns since 2010 are tied for 12th in the NFL over that time.

The man who finished second to Maclin in receiving touchdowns was third-year receiver Riley Cooper, who impressed after returning early in the season from a broken collarbone. Cooper is probably the Ea-gles receiver best suited to make plays on the ball in the air, which he showed when hauling in two im-pressive one-handed touchdown catches. He figures to be in the Eagles' plans on offense moving forward.

Then there was the always reliable slot man Jason Avant, who continued to serve as the dependable fallback option for Eagles quarterbacks. In Avant's seven seasons in the NFL, his reception totals have increased every single season, though he's been the picture of consistency over the last three seasons, upping his catch total from 51 to 52 to 53. Avant also provided the single most thrilling play of any Eagles player this season.

Fifth on the depth chart was diminutive undrafted rookie Damaris Johnson, who proved to be much more than a one-trick-pony return man. Though he only finished the season with 19 catches for 256 yards, Johnson was a consistent part of the offense and was a more impressive receiver than anyone expected out of the 5-foot-8 rookie. As a punt returner, Johnson averaged 11.2 yards per return, which was certainly boosted by his impressive 98-yard touchdown return against the New Orleans Saints.

2012 sixth-round pick Marvin McNutt and former St. Louis Ram and New England Patriot Greg Salas also finished the season on the active roster, though neither registered a catch. Michigan State product and 2012 sixth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins B.J. Cunningham spent most of the season on the Eagles' practice squad and will compete for a roster spot next summer, as will offseason additions Nick Miller and DeMarco Sampson. Finally, Ronald Johnson, who suffered a broken leg in Training Camp, remains on the roster and will compete when healthy.  

Player To Watch In Offseason: The nod here goes to Maclin, who is scheduled to be a free agent following the 2013 season. Certainly the evaluation of the new head coach will go a long way in determining Maclin's future in the organization. If said coach thinks highly of the 24-year-old, an offseason extension could be in the works. Maclin's youth is a selling point, as he has the second-most career receiving yards of any current NFL receiver 24 years old or younger (behind Hakeem Nicks). But if Maclin doesn't quite fit the scheme of the new head coach, perhaps a different future is in store. A big offseason could also go a long way if Maclin remains on his rookie contract heading into next season searching for his first 1,000-yard season.

Free Agents To Be: None of the current Eagles wide receivers are scheduled to be free agents this offseason.

Best Performance: At the risk of going too Maclin-heavy, the receiver gets the nod here for his performance in the Eagles' come-from-behind Week 14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After catching only two balls for 18 yards in the first half, Maclin became a focal point of the offense, often being utilized on quick screens. He ended up with nine catches for 104 yards on the day, but it was the one-yard catch in the corner of the end zone on the game's final play that cemented the top performance.

Noteworthy Stat: In a case of hidden value, Maclin ended up leading the entire NFL in an interesting, and beneficial, category. As pointed out by Sheil Kapadia of Phillymag.com, Maclin, according to Football Outsiders' charting numbers, led the NFL in yards earned as a result of pass interference. According to Football Outsiders, Maclin earned five pass interference calls for a total of 134 penalty yards. The only other receiver to top 100 such penalty yards was Calvin Johnson, who racked up 102.

Previous Offseason Reviews:
Quarterback
Backfield

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