Catching Up on the Eagles Wide Receivers


December 9, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (18) runs with the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Ronde Barber (20) defends during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. The Eagles won 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the NFL offseason, it’s fair to say that the Philadelphia Eagles have completed their free agent plan and are solely focused on May 8th, the first day (and round) of the 2014 NFL Draft. Well, I’m here to break news that will stun even the most hardcore Eagles fans around; are you ready? You can’t say I didn’t warn you:

The Philadelphia Eagles have heavily focused on wide receivers this offseason, with four of their primary pass-catchers from 2013 seeing altered contract statuses.

Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson (now with the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins, respectively) were shown the door via release. Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin both re-signed with Philadelphia prior to the start of unrestricted free agency, with Cooper coming to terms on a five-year deal and Maclin agreeing to a one-year contract. So what does that mean to the Eagles?

One statistic that I truly enjoy is a player’s catch rate, which is the end result of ratio considering how many times a receiver was thrown at compared to successful catches. Here’s how the wide receivers mentioned above have fared since 2010, with individual season Catch Rate Percentages (CR%) courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Total Catch Rate Percentage (Total CR%) rounded up to the nearest tenth by yours truly.

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The nice thing about PFF’s catch rate statistic is that it only accounts for games that a player was thrown at (including playoff games), so any non-played games (Maclin in 2013, etc.) are not penalized to a player’s percentage. It’s also important to note that any throw in the direction of a certain player is counted unless the pass was clearly thrown away by the quarterback.

When dissecting these numbers, three things immediately jump out at me:

1) Jason Avant had the highest Total CR%, but the lowest of primary Eagles WRs in 2013.

The former “Mr. Third Down” really hit a wall. Jason Avant had the highest peaks (had over 70% catch rate, twice!), but had a brutal drop of nearly 19% from 2012 to 2013. To further explain this number, Jason Avant was thrown at 77 times in 2013, but only came down with 43 of those targets.

While a change in quarterback is definitely a factor in skewing the numbers, his release makes a great deal of sense when combining his salary and a steep decline in production considering the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality of the NFL.

2) Statistically speaking, Jeremy Maclin has been more productive than DeSean Jackson.

Before the pitchforks come out, DeSean Jackson had a rough 2010 season (as far as catches are concerned, not yards) that drastically lowered his cumulative total. While that’s true, even factoring out the anomoly season would still only have placed Jackson at a 63.5 Total CR%, just barely above Maclin’s percentage.

This isn’t to say that Jeremy Maclin will cause defenses the same amount of stress as Jackson would have in 2014, but the sky is also far from falling (so long as he can stay healthy). In fact, his re-signing makes sense based on this particular factor, since he’s now has the highest Total CR% of the remaining two Eagles WRs listed.

3) Riley Cooper’s best CR% yet is only marginally better than Jeremy Maclin’s worst.

This one may not end up meaning anything at all, and if for nothing else it’s an interesting bullet point. As impressive of an impression that Cooper left in 2013, it’s interesting that his highest catch rate was just 2% better than Jeremy Maclin in 2012, which ended up being Maclin’s lowest season total of this study.

For all the rapport that quarterback Nick Foles and Riley Cooper showed in 2013, the big plays did not result in maximum efficiency. Putting due responsibility on Foles or Cooper would be masking the point, which is that his upward trend of CR% must continue to grow in 2014 in order for Cooper to be considered a dependable target and worthy of a five-year extension.