Jackson's ouster raises some interesting questions for Kelly, Eagles

Posted: April 10, 2014

THE THOUGHT at the time was that the Eagles did not want to be in a position where they had to draft a safety early. They had drafted for need, disastrously, near the end of Andy Reid's regime, and they did not want to do it again. That was general manager Howie Roseman's thinking when he spoke in late February at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis:

"You don't want to force a position and you don't want to not take a position just because of what you have at the moment. You have to take the best player. And you have to build your team for the long term and look at the draft as long-term decisions for your football team."

And, well, here they are in the days after the release of DeSean Jackson, needing to draft a wide receiver, or two.

Given that the strength of the draft is, indeed, said to be at wide receiver, this isn't a tragic circumstance - but the Eagles do need to draft for need and not for the best player available. Unless a trade is coming, they might need to draft for need twice.

This is just one of the ways that the Eagles' life has changed, post-DeSean. There are three big issues, it seems - three instances in which Eagles coach Chip Kelly will have to beat the odds if the offense is to match its 2013 production.

Three questions:

1) Can Chip get significant production from a rookie wide receiver or two?

We'll start with the numbers from the last dozen years in the NFL, the numbers for rookie wide receivers who were high draft choices.

The typical, median numbers for rookie wideouts drafted in the first round during that time period are 42 receptions for 561 yards and three touchdowns. For a second-rounder, the typical numbers are 21 receptions, 252 yards and two touchdowns.

That this does not come close to replacing Jackson's 2013 numbers - 82 receptions, 1,332 yards, nine touchdowns - is obvious. The notion that a rookie can replace those numbers is not something you would want to bet on. It has happened, yes - Anquan Boldin had 101 catches as a rookie in 2003 for Arizona - but only 29 rookies have had even 50 catches in a season since 2002.

The good news for Kelly is that the big rookies are making a bigger impact earlier in their careers, that the notion of an apprenticeship is declining. If you look at the 50-catch rookies, there were seven from 2002-07 and 22 from 2008-13.

So the rookie can have a meaningful impact in his first season. And if he is a player with size and speed, a player who can develop into someone who succeeds against elite press coverage and in the red zone better than Jackson did - and, to repeat the point of an earlier column, that seems as likely a reason for his departure as any - then you can make the argument for the decision.

But it will be a stretch at the beginning. Which leads to the next question:

2) Can Chip and his Sports Science get Jeremy Maclin back quickly?

As we all know, Maclin is coming back from ACL surgery. As we all also know, at least anecdotally, the first year back from that surgery is often a trial. For every Adrian Peterson who Supermans his way back onto the scene, there are a dozen Robert Griffin IIIs who struggle.

The only academic study on the subject was done on NFL running backs and wide receivers who suffered ACL injuries from 1998 to 2002. The researchers concocted a "power rating" of statistics and determined that, after ACL surgery, performance fell by one-third.

The counterargument is that surgical techniques have improved measurably in the last decade, as has the science of rehab. The other argument is that, given that Maclin's injury happened last July, he will have completed more than a year of rehab by the time the 2014 season opens. We also have heard stories about how diligent Maclin has been with the rehab. All of that, at least theoretically, works in his favor.

Still, to bet on a seamless return is to bet against history - which still leaves some yards and catches that have not been replaced. If tight end Zach Ertz gets some more, and Riley Cooper gets some more with increased time on the field with quarterback Nick Foles, that's still only some. Which leads to the final question:

3) Can Darren Sproles make up for any shortfall?

In acquiring Sproles from New Orleans, Kelly has given himself a fascinating piece. But Sproles will turn 31 in June, and his statistical height came in 2011, with two seasons of declines after that.

It is fair to say Kelly will have a chance to reinvigorate both the player and his numbers by working to get him the ball in space - but it also has to be noted that New Orleans coach Sean Payton is not exactly a slouch in the offensive-design department.

Look at it this way: If Sproles were to get 200 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014, both of those totals would be significantly lower than last season's. But how many running backs have ever gotten 200/500 at age 31 or older?

How many? Only eight - and that is in the entire history of the NFL. The last to do it was Ricky Watters (for Seattle in 2000).

It is just one more place where Chip Kelly will have to beat the odds.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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