Empty Nest

Last week I listened to The Wooder Cooler’s fantastic podcast and Vince made a really interesting point. Regarding the Eagles’ coaching search, he commented on his desire to hire a coach that could help finish what Reid started, essentially stating the Eagles have a solid nucleus of players whose primes cannot be wasted in a long rebuilding phase.

This piqued my interests mostly because I heard my own sentiments in that statement. After years of trotting out receivers of the Thrash variety, the Eagles had a significant change in philosophy over the last few years when it came to offensive skill positions. I believed that change and influx of exciting young talent would push the Eagles over the top.

The Birds used a first-round pick on Jeremy Maclin and second-round picks on DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. From the moment all three of these players stepped on the field, they belonged. Highlighted by long touchdowns and unprecedented ability, each made explosive plays and showed speed and athleticism that we had not seen in the Andy Reid era, and we only expected to improve from there.

Now, after Jackson’s fifth year and four years of McCoy and Maclin, do we still think this is a promising core that can bring us to the promise land? Should the Eagles try to quickly retool to win while these players are in their prime or would they be best served taking it slow and having a more thorough rebuilding process, focused on the long haul?

Let’s take a look. 

DeSean Jackson

Jackson might be the most interesting conundrum. Jackson always feels like the fastest and most dangerous player on the field, and as a young player he posted long touchdowns at a historic rate to match that talent.

However, his talent has never translated into the elite results we wanted.

He’s never finished in the top 10 in receiving yards, peaking as the league’s 12th-leading receiver in 2009 and 2010. But, more importantly, he has not been an efficient player. Jackson’s career best catch rate (the percentage of passes a player catches that are thrown in his direction) is 56 percent and has generally hovered just above 50 percent according to Football Outsiders.

Jackson is used primarily as a deep threat, but that is essentially the problem. He has never adjusted. Jackson has proven to be a one-dimensional player that has never developed into an elite player. Now, even though teams are eliminating the big plays — only two plays of more than 40 yards this year — Jackson has not adjusted, only catching 51 percent of passes thrown his way.

Jeremy Maclin

Despite also coming into the league as a diminutive speed receiver, Maclin has proven to be a much different player than Jackson.

Maclin caught a career-low 56 percent of the passes thrown his way his season, but grabbed 65 percent in 2011 and 61 percent his first two years in the league, even ranking as Football Outsiders’ eighth-best receiver in 2010 based on defense-adjusted yards above replacement. That’s all well and good. The biggest problem is his total numbers.

For a starting receiver, Maclin has only been a top-20 receiver once, when he had a career-high 964 yards in 2010. Maybe Maclin struggled getting the ball playing second fiddle to Jackson, but his numbers were fairly similar in a pass-first offense after Jackson went down this season (think of the amount the Eagles trailed in December 2012).

Despite time as the team’s top receiver in a pass-first offense, Maclin has never translated his strong rate stats into impressive totals, continuing to leave a lot to be desired. At this point in his career, it’s probably safe to say Maclin is just a nice receiver and nothing more.

LeSean McCoy

Lastly, let’s discuss McCoy. Even after an outrageous 2011 in which McCoy broke ankles as well as anyone since Barry Sanders, I don’t think McCoy is an elite running back. At the very least, I don’t think you can build a team around him.

First, I think Michael Vick factors into McCoy’s effectiveness. In order to save myself some time and some headaches, I took the regular season games in which Vick was the Eagles’ leading passer and totaled up McCoy’s rushing numbers.

Then, I took his numbers with any other QB leading the Birds under center. While there will be some overlap because of in-game injuries, this gives a fairly rough idea of Vick’s impact on the running game:

With Vick: 31 games, 488 carries, 2,523 yards, 5.17 yards per carry

Without Vick: 27 games, 347 carries, 1,343 yards, 3.87 yards per carry

As you can see, there’s a pretty stark contrast between how effective McCoy is with and without the threat of Vick in the backfield.

When you combine that with McCoy’s drastic step back this season without Jason Peters (averaging 4.2 ypc after 4.8 in 2011), there are legitimate concerns to whether McCoy is a true superstar or benefited from the system.

Then again, it may be an even bigger issue in that running backs are essentially interchangeable and offensive lines and systems dictate success on the ground. But that is a post for another day. Either way, the numbers show that McCoy might not be as important as we all thought.

Conclusion

As I conclude, I want to make one thing clear – none of these players are bad. They are all starting-caliber players who wouldn’t be a weakness on any NFL team.

That said, one of Howie Roseman’s most important tasks rebuilding this franchise will be assessing his own roster. Just as I needed to re-evaluate my opinion on many of these players, he also will. While these guys are solid, they shouldn’t make the Eagles go “all in” to try to win with them.

Unfortunately, I do not believe the Birds have a core group that they need to utilize. While Jackson, Maclin, and McCoy are nice players, they are not elite talents that are crucial pieces on a Super Bowl team.

On defense, Trent Cole might have been a core player years ago, but with this season’s quiet three-sack performance, it seems that his career is on the downside. Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks might be good down the road, but they are young enough to endure a legitimate rebuilding process.

Without a quarterback and questions surrounding Peters’ health and whether Jason Kelce will remain effective in a different system, this team doesn’t have many redeeming qualities.

This team needs a makeover, not a band aid, and the current roster should have no impact on who Jeffrey Lurie and company hire as the team’s next coach.

Posted on January 8, 2013, in Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Do you think that they are overvalued in the NFL, meaning that they could be traded for more than they might be worth? If we are looking to rebuild, would it be smart to trade these guys away in order to start building a more complete team?

    • With the contracts McCoy and Jackson received last year, they probably could not be traded. Maclin might have marginal value, but teams value picks highly. I agree with your thought process, but I’m not sure that would yield the type of return that would justify trading them.

  1. Pingback: Video: Chip Kelly’s Oregon Offense – Can It Work for the Eagles? | The Wooder Cooler

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