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The State of the Eagles After the Departure of DeSean Jackson
Philadelphia Eagles 2014
Punt returns and 80 catches
DeSean Jackson brought a lot of production to the Eagles during his time in Philadelphia. Not only did he lead their team in receiving for multiple seasons during his time there, but he was always a dynamic threat as a punt returner when asked to do that job. This means that his departure will make it tough to replace him with just one player, because he had the ability to do multiple jobs that usually one player is not expected to do. DeSean Jackson was not the Eagles fulltime punt returner, but he was the best punt return man on the Eagles roster the past six seasons. While DeSean Jackson was not the Eagles leading receiver every year he played for them, he did lead the team in receiving yardage for four of the six seasons that he played in Philadelphia. Parting ways with DeSean Jackson, presents the Eagles with a dilemma, because not only did they let go of their best receiver, they let go of their best punt returner as well.
The return of Jeremy Maclin
Maclin has a very similar skill-set to DeSean Jackson, but he missed all of last season after getting surgery to repair a torn ACL. While Maclin ran a 4.45 second forty yard dash at the combine, and Jackson ran a 4.35 second forty yard dash at the combine, Maclin still possesses some of the same dynamic punt return ability that Jackson brought to the Eagles. The Eagles will probably not ask Maclin to return punts though, as they have another specialist for that job and Maclin will be counted on to be their number one receiver. Returning from a serious knee injury is never easy, but all the reports on Maclin have been very good lately as he is in the final stages of his rehabilitation. Maclin has only once led the Eagles in receiving yards, but Jackson was drafted the year before him and was always the most targeted receiver during their time together on the Eagles. As a slightly bigger receiver than Jackson, Maclin is more willing to make the tough catches over the middle and possesses better overall ability to catch the football. This is why the return of Jeremy Maclin, made it possible for the Eagles to part ways with DeSean Jackson.
Darren Sproles as a punt returner
Throughout his career, Darren Sproles has always been a dynamic kickoff and punt return specialist. After being traded to the Eagles for a fifth round pick, he brings his much needed skill-set to Philadelphia, as they try to replace DeSean Jackson. In eight seasons in the NFL, Darren Sproles has returned three punts for touchdowns, along with averaging 8.2 yards per return. The longest punt return of his career is 77 yards, so his average yardage per return is an impressive display of consistency. This type of consistency will help the Eagles to move past the days where DeSean Jackson lined up deep for punt returns, when the Eagles needed a big play. Returning punts is not the only part of Sproles game, and the other dimensions to his game will help the Eagles to maintain their offensive success moving forward.
Darren Sproles as a runner/receiver
Darren Sproles is a very skilled offensive player, but his size limits the impact he can make in the inside running game. This does not make him a player that does not see the field often though. Sproles is one of the more skilled pass catchers, among running backs in the NFL today. His ability to catch the ball then follow blocks in the screen game, makes him lethal. Darren Sproles is also a threat in the run game, on stretch plays and tosses. Sproles speed and shiftiness along with Maclin's great pass catching abilities, will the help the Eagles very much in their quest to replace DeSean Jackson.
Possible draft picks at wideout
The Eagles have the 22nd pick in the first round of the upcoming draft, and they could take a wide receiver with this pick. An impact talent that should be available at wide receiver with this pick, is Kelvin Benjamin, a 6'5" wide receiver from the National Champion, Florida State Seminoles. If he is not available, the Eagles will probably draft a player from a different position and look for a wide receiver in the later rounds. From Penn State, there is another impact wide receiver in first team Big 10 player, Allen Robinson. Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt is a big receiver that had a very productive 2013 season, but he also is not projected to be picked in the first round. Due to their depth, the Eagles hold the leverage in this situation and will have a chance to draft a very good wide receiver, to add to a playoff roster from last season.
The Eagles are still in a strong position with their receiving corps, due to strong talent evaluation and impact acquisitions recently. They also had a strong offseason with their additions on the defensive side of the ball and depth additions to play special teams. Bringing back Nate Allen along with new addition Malcolm Jenkins, has allowed the Eagles to bolster their biggest defensive weakness from last season. Moving on from DeSean Jackson added to the Eagles cap flexibility, which means they could make more moves this offseason to add experienced talent to a strong roster. Ultimately the Eagles have and will continue to replace DeSean Jackson with very good football players, as they look to build on their success from last season.