The way it looks from this perspective, the Eagles have a tremendous group of players at wide receiver. They have all the necessary pieces for greatness, and they have some anticipated competition set for training camp.
How good can the Eagles be at wide receiver? And not just with their starters, or with their third and fourth receivers. How good would they be if their fifth receiver is thrust into a substantial role and has to deliver late in the season?
We know that DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are very good players, Pro Bowl-level wide receivers. We know that Jason Avant is a terrific slot receiver, one who I think is taken for granted in some circles outside the Eagles organization.
Beyond those three? We'll get to that in a moment. Let's talk about the upper-echelon wide receivers first.
Jackson is primed to have the best season of his career. He is healthy and he is happy. He was sensational in the spring. Jackson is the go-to vertical threat in the offense, a player who has the respect of defenses that understand his ability to blow the top off a coverage scheme. The Eagles need to get Jackson involved in the offense each week, in many ways, but deep down he has to be the prime home-run hitter in the passing game.
With his new contract, the financial side of things is in a far better place than it was a year ago. Jackson is a happy man, and if you saw him bouncing around the NovaCare Complex, you would know that he is in a good place mentally.
That means he has a super chance to be at his very best in 2012. Jackson isn't a big guy, as we all know. You wonder how long he can thrive in the hyper-physical NFL. Teams want to hit Jackson and they want to take him off his game. He has to be smart, he has to be aggressive, and he has to be a star receiver here.
Maclin has the explosive ability to get deep and to be a complete wide receiver. He overcame intense physical challenges last year to catch 63 passes for 859 yards and 5 touchdowns, and while those aren't Pro Bowl numbers, the skills are there to accomplish much more. Maclin has terrific speed, the body to hold up in traffic, fine hands. He and quarterback Michael Vick are in tune with each other, and their red-zone relationship from two years ago needs to be replicated this season.
In the slot, Avant is a perfect fit. I remember way back when in 2002 when the Eagles signed Antonio Freeman, the final piece of the puzzle at wide receiver. He would fill the slot role and take the passing game to a new level. Freeman was OK, but he wasn't enough. Avant is everything a slot receiver should be. He runs sharp routes, he catches everything and he is as tough as they come in this game. The Eagles are in wonderful shape there.
At No. 4 on the depth chart is Riley Cooper, who, as I see it, is heads and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Cooper was as impressive as any receiver in the spring. Maybe I wasn't seeing things correctly, but Cooper looked faster and more fluid -- by far -- than in any of his previous seasons. He looked great. He is going to be an important part of the offense.
The race for the fifth receiver spot is open. This is where it gets fun. Chad Hall is a versatile guy and he is a good football player and he has proven he can play in this league. But his job security is going to be challenged. Sixth-round draft pick Marvin McNutt is a candidate to make the team, as is rookie free agent Damaris Johnson. Both came along nicely in the spring.
Ron Johnson, many forget, was on the active roster late last season and the Eagles want to take a long look at him.
Certainly, the competition will be worth watching in the heat at Lehigh University. It's going to be fun to see, as the Eagles' passing game should be in sync from the very start of practice. The timing was there in the spring, the talent was evident, and it was a far cry from the old days when the offense made it work with far less ability catching passes from Donovan McNabb.
The Eagles have never been in better shape at wide receiver. Top to bottom, the Eagles are in good hands.