This is a repost of the Gameday Magazine cover story on Jeremy Maclin from the New York Giants game on October 12. On Tuesday, Maclin was named as the Eagles' recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. This feature helps explain why Maclin's teammates selected him for the honor ...
Are you surprised?
You shouldn't be by now.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is one of eight players in the history of the NFL - yes, eight all time - to have at least 55 catches and 750 yards in each of his first four NFL seasons. No receiver in Eagles history had more catches in his first four seasons than Maclin with 258. Only two players had more receiving yards and four scored more touchdowns.
Nonetheless, Maclin's start to the 2014 season has opened some eyes. He is the team's leader across the board with 39 receptions for 632 yards and six touchdowns. All of his touchdowns have come in critical junctures of the game.
Yes, Maclin is just a little over a year removed from the ACL injury that robbed him of his 2013 season. Some players come back strong the following year from such an injury, some don't. It isn't the first time Maclin injured the ACL in his right knee. He did so back in college.
This also isn't the first time Maclin has overcome adversity. Hardly. Remember the movie The Blind Side? That was very similar to Maclin's childhood. He was abandoned by his father and taken in by the family of his youth football coach, Dr. Jeff Parres, at the age of 9. In 2011, Maclin missed the entire preseason after a cancer scare. He had symptoms that were synonymous with lymphoma, but was cleared after a rigorous battery of tests over a five-month span. He suited up on opening day and registered 63 catches for 859 yards and five touchdowns for the season.
"I think everybody was questioning with Maclin whether he'd be the same or how he'd be as the number one receiver coming off the injury, but he looks good. He looks explosive," said running back LeSean McCoy. "There's times when he's more open than what you guys see. He's playing well. Another thing about Mac is for so long Mac has been productive in a scheme that wasn't really meant for him to be productive as much. He's a hell of a player. That's why we drafted him so high. He's going to continue to have success. I'm not surprised at all."
Maclin was the Eagles' first-round pick in 2009. A two-time All-America selection at Missouri, Maclin was projected to be a top-10 selection, but fell into the teens. The Eagles had the No. 21 pick, but traded up and ended Maclin's slide by grabbing him with the 19th-overall selection. This season, he is on pace for 89 catches, over 1,445 yards and 13 touchdowns. All of those numbers would be career highs and challenge the franchise's single-season records.
Maclin's teammates are not surprised by the receiver's success this year, but neither are his peers around the league. In fact, cornerback Cary Williams said that when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, their primary concern before the Week 2 matchup that season was not Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson - it was Maclin.
"We said that Maclin was the overall better receiver in every aspect," Williams said. "I don't try to compare guys, but in my opinion I think it is what it is. He may be a better receiver overall than what DeSean was. He possesses a different element to the game, so you've got to really cover this guy on his routes. He's a guy that can take a hit, and if you miss the tackle he can go 80 yards for a touchdown. He's the best guy we've got on the team right now."
Jackson was on the opposing sideline when Washington visited the Eagles in Week 3. Jackson scored on an 81-yard touchdown, but it was Maclin who had the last laugh with a dominating eight catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. It was his sixth-straight regular season game with a touchdown dating back to when he previously played in the 2012 season. More importantly, the Eagles earned the win. Coming off the field that afternoon, Maclin was emotional, screaming to the crowd.
"I think it was one of those where you're just like, 'Oh man, I'm back.' Like, Maclin's back. And I just think he just is himself now," said fellow wide receiver and close friend Riley Cooper. "He's just playing ball like he knows how, nothing's an issue, health isn't an issue - he's just playing how he plays, and upstairs knew it, and that's why they gave him a deal. They knew he was going to come back strong, and he showed it. Really, really happy for him."
Maclin was an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. He and the Eagles tried to work out a long-term deal, but settled on a one-year contract. Maclin is not focused on his long-term future with the team as he believes the contract will work itself out. He had no intention of leaving last offseason and reiterated recently that Philadelphia "is where I want to be."
Maclin is playing right now with an unbelievable amount of confidence. In the team's only loss of the season to this point in San Francisco, Maclin made a spectacular diving, one-handed grab on a third-down situation along the sideline for a 22-yard gain.
"Confidence is what makes you go. You want to put a confident bunch out there on the football field," Maclin said.
"In my eyes, I try to make every play I can and I'm confident that I'm going to make every play. Anytime I see the ball hit the ground next to me in the vicinity, I get mad. I get frustrated. Those are plays you want to make."
At 6-feet, 198 pounds, Maclin is playing in a similar offense to the one he thrived in at Missouri. Coaches widely believed that Maclin was poised for a big season before his ACL injury. Behind the scenes, Maclin grinded away treating the NovaCare Complex like a home away from home to get himself ready for this season. And that work ethic was not lost on his teammates.
"Ever since I've been here, he's been a hard worker. He's been one of the most diligent guys on the offense in my opinion," Williams said. "Barring the injury, I thought he was going to have great success last year. It's just unfortunate that he had an injury and was forced to sit out. So this year, it's really no surprise. I've seen his hard work and what he puts into it. He deserves everything he's going to get."
Cornerback Nolan Carroll II signed with the Eagles this past offseason after four seasons in Miami. He had the unique perspective of playing with Maclin for the first time during the Organized Team Activities, when the receiver was just getting back on the field, to now.
"You could tell he was hesitant. The first thing I noticed, he wasn't really comfortable with himself, still getting back into it. Then you fast forward about five months later, he looks more comfortable. He looks more explosive," Carroll said. "We as a team know that Maclin's our guy. He's our deep guy. He's the guy that (Nick) Foles looks at to make the big play. He's shown that over time, the more plays he's made the more confident he's gotten, and not in himself, but in his body as well. When you have an injury like that, it takes some time. He's been through a lot of stuff, so for him, it's good that he's been able to get that confidence back in himself and be able to go out on the field and produce."
Cornerback Brandon Boykin laughs when going through the laundry list of what makes Maclin a challenge to defend.
"He's just a complete player. He's not one-dimensional. When you have a guy that's one-dimensional, it'll be tough on them once they have a good season. The only way to have success in this league is to be an all-around player and get better at different things, because they're going to take that away as soon as they find out that you're good at it," Boykin said. "He's been able to kind of complete his game over the course of his career. Great possession receiver. He's smart. He's got great hands. He can go deep. He's a good blocker. So that's what keeps him in the game."
One of the aspects of Maclin's game that does not get enough credit is his willingness to block. In the preseason, McCoy took a beautifully designed screen pass 22 yards for a touchdown against the Steelers. At the end, by the goal line, was Maclin making the final block on cornerback Cortez Allen to get McCoy in the end zone. What most people didn't notice was the crushing hit Maclin took from behind as safety Troy Polamalu dove in to make the tackle.
Are you still surprised by Maclin's hot start to the 2014 season? Maclin is not concerned about his performance or his stats. He spends more time thinking about the plays he doesn't make over the course of a game because in the end he wants to help this team win. The Eagles are off to their best start since Maclin was a first-round draft pick back in '09. His return is a big reason for that.
"The ultimate goal is to win football games," Maclin said.