It’s time for the Eagles to make a change at WR this offseason

The Eagles are the third worst team in the NFL in Red Zone TD percentage, at 38.71%.  From 2009 to 2011, the remaining span during which the Eagles have employed DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as their starting wide receivers, they finished in the following positions in the NFL:

2011: 51.52%, 14th in the NFL.

2010: 52.46%, 16th in the NFL.

2009: 49.06%, 21st in the NFL.

Needless to say, Red Zone efficiency has not been a strength of the Eagles during the tenures of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

Jackson and Maclin are both finesse players.  Their game is speed, which is great in between the 20’s, but not so much inside the 20, where the field is shortened.  While both players have value, they don’t exactly compliment each other.  Jackson is generously listed at 5’10, while Maclin is a hair over six feet tall.

When you look at the other teams that finish high in Red Zone TD percentage, there is a common theme.  Those teams either have stellar QBs, or a tall, talented WR.  Take this year for example. The top five teams in the NFL in Red Zone TD percentage are the Saints, Packers, Buccaneers, Patriots, and Broncos.  Four of those teams have elite QBs.  The 5th has Josh Freeman, who has been helped immensely this season by the free agent acquisition of 6’5 WR Vincent Jackson.

Vincent Jackson has 7 TD catches this season.  Most of them were in the Red Zone, all delivered high (note the ball circled in some of the below frames):

VJ 1


VJ 2

VJ 3

VJ 4

VJ 5

VJ 6

VJ 7

Where did Tampa finish in Red Zone efficiency the last two seasons?  17th and 19th.

Last season, there were four teams that finished above 65% in Red Zone TD percentage.  There weren’t any other teams that finished higher than 60%.  Those top 4 teams: The Lions, Jets, and once again, the Packers and Patriots.  The Lions got a career year out of Matthew Stafford last season, and 6’5 WR Calvin Johnson was SO good that he has begun to draw this kind of coverage in the Red Zone from opposing defenses:

More interesting, however, were the 2011 Jets, who, incredibly, finished 2nd, despite not having a QB that most NFL followers would consider anything close to the likes of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.  In 2009 and 2010, the Jets finished 17th and 28th in red zone TD percentage.  In 2011, they employed Plaxico Burress.

During this offseason, I went to the tape to see what Burress’ collection of TDs actually looked like.  Seven of the eight were in the red zone, and seven of them (one outside the red zone) were plays in which Mark Sanchez simply threw the ball up high, and basically said “Go up and get it, big fella.”  A quick pictorial look at those seven TDs (again, note the ball circled in red on some of the below stills):

Simply being tall doesn’t mean a receiver will automatically be good in the red zone.  If that were the case Manute Bol (RIP) would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame instead of embarking on a spectacular career in the NBA and on Saturday Night Live.

The Eagles currently employ one WR that is over 6’1.  That would be 6’3 Riley Cooper.  Two weeks ago, Riley Cooper caught a fade route from Michael Vick:

That prompted CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank to joke via Twitter that it has been a long time since the Eagles completed a fade pattern:

Or maybe he wasn’t joking.

The Eagles will not be heading into the 2013 season with a great QB, so they would be wise to give whoever that QB might be a large target, so he can occasionally throw some “go up and get it big fella” passes to take the pressure off.

DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are both good receivers, individually.  Maclin has one year left on his deal, he is still only 24, and widely viewed as a good guy.  The Eagles might be wise to see what kind of trade compensation they can get in return for him this offseason.  But as a tandem, it’s not working.  A big, physical WR should be a high priority this offseason.

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  1. Clayton says:

    No more Celek. Guy has become a major liability. He’s LJ Smith 2.0.

  2. Eric says:

    WR or athletic freak of a TE like Gronk to pair with Celek and run a system like NE?

    1. Jimmy Kempski says:

      A Gronk clone would be great, but player like him don’t grow on trees. He’s arguably as effective a player as Calvin Johnson.

  3. Clayton says:

    Wasn’t the book on Maclin, coming out of college, that he was an excellent slot receiver, but there were questions whether he could transfer to the outside? Why not try him out in a slot role, similar to Victor Cruz, and look for a bigger target on the outside, such as Bowe? Even signing Plax for a year could help until there’s a legitimate redzone threat we could draft. Plax and Desean as your WR1 & WR2, with Maclin playing slot, and Cooper as your other option would be solid. Also would be nice to see if Harbor could get more involved in the offense. I’m done with Celek and his stonehands.

  4. The four teams you mentioned do have elite Quarterbacks, but they also have huge Red-zone threats.

    The Saints have Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston. Both huge

    The Packers Jermichael Finely is big, but so is Jordy Nelson is 6’3 and scored 15 touchdowns last year

    Eric Decker and Thomas are not small either.

    And then of course the Patriots have the Gronk as well.

  5. bonez2088 says:

    I totally agree that the WR position needs to be addressed in the offseason, but I see no reason to explore trading Maclin now (when his trade value is minimal and he has a very affordable salary next year). The Eagles have gotten little-to-nothing out of Jason Avant over the past 2 seasons, and in today’s NFL, you need 3 good receivers to consistently move the ball on good defenses.

    Give Maclin next year to prove himself to be a stud, or prove that he’s unlikely to ever live up to his potential, and then decide to cut bait or extend him. He is great on slants and intermediate routes. Desean is still a premiere field stretcher who demands safety attention. A big target partnered with them would find a lot of space in this offense, even outside of the redzone.

    The always-enamored-with-big-name-receivers Philly fans will salivate over the chance of picking up Bowe, but your post’s mention of Plax’s contributions show that a role-playing redzone receiver still has a purpose in this league. If I was making the decisions, I’d cut Avant and pick up a talented big guy. Then you have open competition for the 4th WR spot between Cooper and D. Johnson, where either are acceptable options.

    1. Joe D says:

      Dude 4 years in the NFL…how many years are you going to wait for him to “break out.” ??? Time to dump him while we can get something for him instead of letting him walk next year. Go get Bowe and now you have two STUDS for the next 5-6 years there.

      1. bonez2088 says:

        I understand this viewpoint, but I think that there is more reward to keeping him than trading him at this point. Other teams will be viewing him through the same eyes as you, meaning that he isn’t worth nearly as much as everyone thinks on the open market. At this point, let him earn his 2.9 million next year and see if he ever develops into a “consistent game-changer”, or has maxed out at “capricious athlete.”

  6. Andersj says:

    I wouldnt mind trading maclin for an early round pick and then sign bowe as a FA and draft a big wr early. I do think cooper has outplayed maclin already because he actually block in the run game

    1. bonez2088 says:

      No team would be willing to give an “early round pick” for Maclin at this point, especially because any trade would likely revolve around a contract extension that would be hard to place numbers on. He has “potential” (how sick is Philadelphia of that word by now), which means he will almost surely overvalue himself in contract talks, based off his inconsistent production. Maclin would only net us a 3rd or 4th at most this offseason. Would rather give him another season to see if he can find his form in Philly.

      1. mjoedgaard says:

        you dont think a WR starving team like the Rams or Jags might overvalue him? The Rams really need an outside WR to stretch the field and Maclin would be perfect for that together with Amendola underneath

      2. Gotta disagree there. I think a 2 would not only be a very fair asking price, but it would also be a worthwhile investment for other teams lacking for speed in their WR corps. Keep in mind, he’s only 24.

  7. triplej says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, this team has many more needs before obtaining a tall WR. Reid has killed this team with bad draft choices, bad trades, bad free agent signings and bad coaching choices. His firing cannot come soon enough.
    There’s that old saying that you need to careful for what you wish for cause it might come true. The only way this can become fact is if Lurie screws up on the hiring of a new coach.
    Eagle fans….Bring your paper bag hats for Monday night football (If in fact you even go) and embarrass Lurie.

  8. Joe Jones says:

    Totally agree. Jackson is clearly the more dynamic player and surprisingly has missed fewer games due to injury than Maclin. I dont know what they can get for Maclin, but they’d be wise to call the Dolphins, who have a surplus of picks and gauge their interest.

    1. Dolphins would make a lot of sense. Good call.

      1. Joe D says:

        How about NE? They have been trying to plug in band aids as deep threats for years except for Randy Moss. It would be hard to get good compensation from Bellicheck though.

        Jaguars would be another good team. And I have been saying and battling Eagles fans for 2 years now that Jackson is clearly the better WR despite being a “less” complete WR

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