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Offseason Preview: Wide Receiver

Posted Jan 14, 2012

Our offseason position-by-position previews are in full swing. Today, it's a look at one position that includes a crucial offseason question that will set the stage for the position in the future ...

2011 Season In Review

As much talent as the Eagles have at the wide receiver position, there were some concerns at the start of training camp to open the 2011 season.

Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson did not report to training camp on time due to a desire for a new contract. This was the final year of his rookie contract.

The Eagles also dealt with the uncertainty regarding the future of Jeremy Maclin, who was undergoing tests for an undetermined illness. He was unable to practice at training camp and did not play in the preseason. In fact, Maclin underwent a laparoscopic procedure during the exhibition slate.

Amazingly enough, Jackson, Maclin and Jason Avant would each go on to post at least 50 receptions and 600 receiving yards in 2011.

Jackson led the team for the fourth straight year with 961 receiving yards at an average of 16.6 yards per catch. No receiver in Eagles history has more receptions (229) or yards (4,085) than Jackson in the first four years of his career. As good as Jackson's numbers were, he missed a team meeting which resulted in being deactivated for the Arizona game. Head coach Andy Reid also kept Jackson off of the field for the fourth quarter of the loss to the Patriots. At the end of the year, Jackson apologized for how he handled himself during his contract year.

Maclin, meanwhile, was ready for the season opener despite his medical scare. At one point, it was believed he had lymphoma which proved not to be the case. Despite the difficult offseason, Maclin persevered to lead the team with 63 catches to go along with 859 yards and five touchdowns. He was well on pace for 1,000 yards receiving until shoulder and hamstring injuries forced him to miss three games. Maclin had three 100-yard games this season including a 13-catch, 171-yard, two-touchdown performance in Atlanta. The 6-0, 198-pound Maclin's toughness is on display each and every week. He is an incredibly fierce blocker, willing to sacrifice himself to help his teammates get additional yardage. And in the red zone, Maclin had four touchdowns this season to increase his career total to 12 scores inside the 20-yard line in three NFL seasons.

Avant is one of the team's leaders and also one of the preeminent slot players in the league. He also extended his amazing streak of having increased his reception total in each of his six NFL seasons - from seven as a rookie in 2006 to 52 this past season. An underrated force on third downs, Avant converted 15 of his 17 third-down catches into a fresh set of downs in 2011.

Second-year receiver Riley Cooper saw extended action late in the season playing in place of an injured Maclin. The 6-3, 222-pound Cooper improved his numbers from his rookie campaign catching 16 passes for 315 yards and scoring a touchdown. He averaged 19.7 yards per catch and his touchdown was the game-winner in the thrilling victory against the Giants. Cooper also posted two of the longest receptions of the season for the team - a 58-yard catch against New England and a 47-yard grab vs. Seattle.

Steve Smith was signed by the Eagles in the offseason as an insurance policy, but proved to be a disappointment. The former Giant who posted over 100 catches and 1,200 receiving yards in 2009 caught a mere 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown - albeit it came against his former team. Smith battled back from a knee injury suffered late in 2010 to be ready for the season opener, but problems with the knee resurfaced and he was placed on injured reserve December 12.

Chad Hall has a thing for scoring in regular season finales. Each of his two career touchdowns have come in Week 17 games as his 7-yard touchdown in the 2011 season finale against Washington paced the team to a blowout win. Hall is a player with a unique skill set where he can catch, run and return. After spending the first nine games of the year on the practice squad, Hall played in the final seven games and contributed in each aspect of the offense.

Impressive Stat

Jackson (961), Maclin (859) and tight end Brent Celek (811) teamed up to become the first trio in Eagles history of each rack up 800-plus receiving yards in one season.

End Of Season Depth Chart

X-Receiver: 1. Jeremy Maclin, 2. Riley Cooper. 3. Chad Hall

Z-Receiver: 1. DeSean Jackson (UFA), 2. Jason Avant, 3. Ron Johnson

Injured Reserve: Steve Smith (UFA)

To Be Answered

The obvious question is what will happen with DeSean Jackson, who is set to become a free agent. Eagles Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie is open to Jackson's return. Jackson said at the end of the season he would play under the franchise tag if the Eagles wanted to go that route. The Eagles have the option to place the tag beginning February 20.

If the Eagles wanted to move on from Jackson, there are a number of tempting options available in free agency including San Diego's Vincent Jackson, New Orleans' Marques Colston, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker in New England among others.

The Jackson decision will have a domino effect. If Jackson is not re-signed or replaced by another free agent, will the Eagles attack the position in the draft? Philosophically, will the Eagles target another speedster? Do they want a bigger-framed receiver? Will the Eagles follow in the footsteps of New England and employ the two tight-end set more?

Jeremy Maclin has proven to be an outstanding all-around receiver and a full and healthy offseason should allow him to continue his development.

Speaking of bigger-framed receivers, one has to wonder how much the lockout hurt Riley Cooper? Senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach David Culley could make Cooper his pet project this offseason.

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