In the west coast offense the emphasis is on passing over running and if you know Andy Reid you are well aware of his love affair with passing the ball. His struggles with running date back to PE when he was forced to run countless laps around the football field that have since scared him straight. He can’t even stand to look at a running play, let alone call one. He builds his teams in the trenches and lives by his philosophy that “it all starts up front.” Reid has made a living off of up-front guys like Corey Simon and Tra Thomas. At running back he puts his stock in quick, sure handed runners like Brian Westbrook and Shady McCoy, guys that don’t hammer it between tackles but fit in well with his pass first philosophy. Needless to say the wide receiver position has never been of big concern for Big Red.
Reid’s track record of drafting wide receivers is not appealing. His first receiver under the helm was North Carolina product Na Brown in 1999, granted it was only a 4th round pick. He didn’t fare so well with higher round picks either. In 2000 with a 2nd round pick he selected Todd Pinkston, with the 25th overall pick in 2001 he took Freddie Mitchell. Pinkston put up average numbers as an Eagle but was loosely chastised for his alligator arm syndrome. In the 3rd round of the 2003 draft Reid chose Billy “concrete hands” McMullen and in the 2nd round of 2005 Reid drafted Reggie Brown. Are you starting to notice the trend? Other than 4th & 26 I can’t find a whole lot of positive things to say about any of these guys listed above. Well Reggie Brown had nice dreads before he cut them off….how’s that for nice?
Before DeSean Jackson, in the Andy Reid Era only two wide receivers have ever eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season, Terrell Owens and Kevin Curtis. In 2009 & 2010 Jackson became the first Eagles receiver with back to back 1,000 yard seasons since Irving Fryar in 96-97. Although in 2005 if the whole T.O. situation wouldn’t have gone nuclear Owens would have easily had another 1,000 yard season. That is over a decade of inconsistent, lack-luster play from our wide receivers. Something that has drove every Eagle phan completely crazy. So you can understand the insanity that ensued when Terrell Owens was brought to Philadelphia in 2004, and it is not hard to figure out why the current group of wide receivers garners so much attention.
It is hard to criticize Reid for the wide receivers he has put on the field since 2006. His draft stock consisting of McMullens and Pinkstons has been transformed. In 2006 Reid selected Jason Avant in the 4th round, in 2008 Reid made a draft day steal by drafting Cal product DeSean Jackson in the 2nd round, and in the 2009 draft the trio was completed with the drafting of Jeremy Maclin at #19. The jury is still out on 2010 5th round pick Riley Cooper from Florida but his combination of size and speed along with his ability to block add another interesting piece to the wide receiver corp.
Today’s Eagles receivers are the best we have seen since the days of Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams, who in 1990 as rookies scored 17 touchdowns while racking in over 1,300 yards receiving combined. Today the Birds have a group consisting of DeSean Jackson who is pure speed, Jeremy Maclin who can do just about everything, and Jason Avant who is as sure handed as they come, this collection is quite possibly the best group of receivers in the game. For the sake of arguing, some comparable receiving trios might be the Colts with Wayne/Garcon/Collie, and the Jets with Holmes/Edwards/Cotchery, but I’m only here to state the obvious. Jackson, Maclin, and Avant combined for 168 receptions for 2,593 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010.
Although Jackson is quick to astonish and catches most of the Monday Night lights it was Jeremy Maclin who was the Eagles most productive wideout in 2010 with 70 catches and 10 touchdowns. Running next to Jackson Maclin’s speed is deceptive, his ability to explode off the line and his precise route running make him a favorite target for Vick. He is a legitimate deep threat with the toughness to hang in the middle of the field as a slot receiver. Very capable of the big play in 2010 Maclin had 4 plays over 40 years with 3 going for touchdowns. His 5 touchdowns in the red zone prove he can do it all. Maclin and Jackson provide a very lethal one two punch. If I had to choose a receiver to build my team around I would go with Maclin. Maclin is quickly becoming a bona fide star receiver in the NFL.
The game-changer DeSean Jackson is pure speed, Usain Bolt on a football field. His big play ability from wide receiver to punt returner is unmatched (just ask Tom Coughlin). Vick connected with Jackson for an 88-yard touchdown on the opening play of a Monday Night game vs. the Redskins last November showcasing his speed for all to see. He is the definition of a play maker and a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He was the Eagles leading receiver in 2010 with 1,056 yards. Jackson’s speed clearly opens the field up for the rest of the team to make catches.
Adding to the mix is Jason Avant. He provides the necessary middle of the field slot receiver needed to move the chains and produce in the red zone. The slot receiver is a position without all the least glitz and glamour. Grinding it out in the middle of the field with the linebackers and safeties takes courage, intelligence, and a tremendous sense for the game of football and Avant possesses all of these tools. Although his drops were noticeably higher this year Avant is still one of the most sure handed receivers on the team. It is clear by his “hands” celebration after every catch that he prides himself on his “hands.” That sounds eerily too familiar, but I don’t think we have to worry about Jason Avant pulling a Fred-ex anytime soon. Avant is a reliable receiver and is very capable of getting the tough yards.
Reid should take pride in his wide receivers and the talent he has drafted. The NFL Draft can be a crap shoot of who’s a star and who’s a bust but it has panned out well for Reid and Co. in recent years. Reid’s current group of receivers is by far the strongest during his tenure in Philly. With QB Michael Vick running the show and other offensive weapons like LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek, the Eagles offense is poised for another big year in 2011.