How Reliable Are the Philadelphia Eagles' Wide Receivers?
In 2013, fantasy football enthusiasts were lifted by the stellar play of Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson during their first year with head coach Chip Kelly. The Eagles had two field-stretching playmakers at running back and wideout who combined for 134 receptions and 1,871 receiving yards in 2013 and, in turn, had fantasy footballers drooling over what could be in 2014.
After Jackson departed for the division-rival Redskins in the offseason, the Eagles were left with a huge hole to fill on the outside. They alleviated the loss by welcoming back sixth-year wideout Jeremy Maclin after he missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL, signing the versatile back Darren Sproles, and drafting the SEC’s all-time leading receiver, Jordan Matthews.
On paper, it looks like the Eagles have the pieces that could make up for the dismissal of Philadelphia’s favorite speedster. There will be plenty of balls to go around in 2014, given the losses of both Jackson and long-time Eagle Jason Avant, who surprisingly had 76 targets last season. But I don’t see this significantly boosting the value of any one of the Philadelphia wide receivers, and neither do our projections. The following takes a look at how we see the season unfolding for Philadelphia’s pass catchers.
Yes, Maclin is projected to put up some pretty good numbers, and, if they're any indication, he will post career highs in both receptions and yards in 2014. If Maclin had put up his projected point total of 137 last season, he would have been the 18th-best wide receiver in fantasy football. The sixth-year wideout from Missouri had been a steady receiving option for Philadelphia prior to his knee injury a year ago, averaging 65 receptions, 107 targets, 863 yards and 7 touchdowns from 2009-2012. If there’s one receiver to own in Philly this season, it has to be Maclin.
But could Philadelphia’s love for getting its backs and tight ends involved hurt the value of Maclin, Cooper, and company? Absolutely.
Sharing the Love
Looking back at our projections, we expect both McCoy and Sproles to be heavily involved in the team's aerial attack. That shouldn't be much of a surprise. Shady saw 12.8 percent of the targets in Philly last season, while Sproles garnered just under 14 percent of the throws from Drew Brees in New Orleans a year ago. Together they’ll form the most dynamic 1-2 punch in the NFL, both in the air and on the ground.
At tight end last season, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz accounted for just over 20 percent of the targets in Philadelphia. I fully expect that number to go up this season, especially with the emergence of the matchup nightmare Ertz (6-5, 250) and departure of DeSean Jackson. We shouldn't be surprised if Ertz topped our projected numbers this year and caught 60 balls.
Looking back at how Philly distributed the ball through the air in Week 1 - I know it’s a small sample size, but it shows just how unpredictable Foles can be in who he throws to - we see the weekly ambiguity we may find from this offense. Seven different players had at least four targets, and four had at least six. In terms of positional targets, wide receivers led with 23, running backs had 12 and tight ends had 8. It’s no surprise that wideouts led the way in targets due to Philly falling behind quickly, but, still, the Eagles nearly split their targets evenly between wideouts (23) and the other pass-catchers (20).
Maclin led the team with 10 targets and, outside of his 67-yard touchdown reception on a horrifically blown coverage, it was a pretty mediocre day for Philadelphia wide receivers. Ertz had the more efficient day on far fewer looks; just imagine what type of numbers this guy can put up if he received a quality amount of targets week in and week out. But that’s the unpredictability of the Chip Kelly offense. They love to spread the ball around and get the rock to the open guy, regardless of who he is.
Outside of Maclin, who has WR2 value at best, the wide receivers in Philadelphia aren’t big-number guys who are going to be viable options for your fantasy football team every week. Opposite Maclin, Cooper is essentially touchdown and big-play dependent - in 2013, six of his eight touchdowns came in the three games where he posted 100 or more receiving yards. Outside of those three games, he was hardly playable.
Matthews’ role in the offense will certainly grow as the season progresses, but because the Eagles have playmakers at multiple positions and love to spread the ball around, it’s hard to like anyone but Maclin on the outside in Philadelphia this season if he stays healthy.
We'll see how things continue in Week 2, but this is just a friendly reminder: The Eagles pass-catchers will be very inconsistent this season.