This is the fourth in a series analyzing the Eagles, position by position, leading into training camp ...
Once upon a time, not too long ago, the fans and media beat the drums, louder and louder, that the Eagles were inadequate at the wide receiver position, that they could never attain the kind of success they wanted with a receiving corps that lacked star pedigree. The lack of a "No. 1" receiver would doom the Eagles, who simply did not place the kind of emphasis on the position that the pass-happy NFL demanded. Well, nobody says that about the Eagles any longer. In fact, the receivers the Eagles have assembled -- through the draft, and not in free agency -- is probably as deep and as talented as any group the Eagles have had in, well, maybe the history of the franchise.
The Eagles are loaded with pass catchers. They have speed, talent, tenacity, toughness and youth at wide receiver and at tight end, and any conversation about this team's potent offense centers around this group.
Let's begin at tight end. Brent Celek emerged last season in his first full year as a starter and he is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Celek has great hands, is as tough as they come and showed a lot more athletic ability than some believed he had. Celek was a huge part of the offense and figures to be just as vital in 2010. The Eagles can move him around and take advantage of his size and his excellent speed for a big man.
Celek has worked very hard on improving his strength and his in-line blocking, and that will continue to be an area he will address. Behind Celek is second-year man Cornelius Ingram, a great physical specimen who is healthy after missing last year with a torn ACL. Ingram is an intriguing possibility because he runs so well and is so athletic, but he has also not played the last two seasons because of knee injuries. Can he stay healthy? Can the Eagles fit him in as a second tight end to make a difference in the red zone?
The talent doesn't end there. Rookie Clay Harbor will look to open some eyes in training camp, along with young veteran Martin Rucker. Again, both fit what the Eagles want: They are athletic, they get down the field and they are receivers in tight end bodies.
Whether the Eagles keep two or three tight ends remains to be seen. Two has been the norm in the recent years, but if the Eagles think they have three worthy of making the 53-man roster, they will keep all of them.
At wide receiver, the talent pool is even deeper. DeSean Jackson is a Pro Bowl player and one of the most dynamic players in the game. He has blossomed so well in the offense. Everyone knows that Jackson has the game-breaking speed, but he has worked hard to become an excellent route runner and his hands are terrific. Jackson could be used more in motion this year to allow him to get free from press coverage and double teams.
On the other side is second-year man Jeremy Maclin, who has the same kind of sky-is-the-limit ability as Jackson. Maclin has added some bulk in the off-season and is in tune with the scheme, and he should vault forward this year after a strong rookie season. Maclin has the speed and the hands and the precision in his routes to be a No. 1 receiver, and he and Jackson form a deadly duo.
Third receiver Jason Avant is one of the best slot receivers in the game and is a tremendous weapon on third downs and in the red zone. Avant has super-strong hands and is fantastic in short areas.
Hank Baskett returns via free agency to assume the role of the fourth wide receiver and special teams standout, and he played very well in the spring. Baskett is a big body with good hands and the Eagles may look to use him more in the red zone. Plus, he is an excellent blocker who helps the team's running game. Baskett will get some competition for that fourth spot from rookie Riley Cooper, the draft pick from Florida, who has a strong first impression in the spring.
It seems pretty established that those five are in line right now. Will the Eagles keep a sixth receiver? Will a player like Jordan Norwood or Dobson Collins or Chad Hall become a training camp and preseason sensation and force the Eagles to reconsider the order at this position?
Bottom line: All of a sudden, the Eagles are loaded with outstanding pass catchers. They have a luxury of riches here, and it is only getting better. A young group that has grown up together looks to get even better this year. Maclin's development is key. If he improves as much in his second year as he did in his first, he will be very difficult to cover. It's a great group that the Eagles have done a good job drafting and then developing.
Next: Defensive line