When the Philadelphia Eagles released three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson after his best season, they were counting on Jeremy Maclin making a strong comeback from knee surgery.
Maclin hasn't let them down.
The sixth-year pro has 21 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns in four games, helping the Eagles to a 3-1 start. Jackson has 15 receptions for 207 yards and one TD, an 81-yarder in Philadelphia in Week 3.
At this pace, Maclin would become the first player in team history to surpass 80 catches, 1,400 yards and 12 TDs. Not bad for a guy coming off his second ACL injury.
"I don't necessarily put numbers on it, or say, 'I'm the No. 1 guy,' or say, 'I'm the third,'" Maclin said. "I've had the opportunity to just be reliable for my team, that's kind of how I've always been. ... I think the No. 1 job for receiver is to be there when the quarterback needs you."
Maclin caught plenty of passes when he played with Jackson from 2009-12 in Andy Reid's pass-heavy offense. The speedy Jackson was the deep threat while Maclin ran shorter, sometimes tougher routes.
In Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense, Jackson thrived last year. He had 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine TDs. But Kelly cut Jackson in March, saying the team wanted to go a different direction and he prefers bigger, stronger receivers. Jackson's practice habits and me-first approach also were factors in the decision, though Kelly never confirmed that publicly.
"We had a lot of guys who could make plays but that featured a certain receiver and that was the position that DeSean played," Maclin said of Reid's offense. "In this one, it's a little more wide open. Obviously you try to get your guys in places that will be successful and to be able to make plays, which right now the ball has been coming my way a lot."
The Eagles also released veteran wideout Jason Avant in the offseason, with rookie Jordan Matthews taking his spot as the slot receiver. Riley Cooper returned as the No. 2 guy after a breakout season, but he struggled in the first month. Matthews has 15 catches for 141 yards and two TDs. Cooper has 15 catches for 125 yards and no scores, though he dropped two TDs.
"That's bad, but everything else I feel like I'm playing good football, the blocking, getting open, all of those things," Cooper said. "I've just got to make those two plays. I think everybody harps on those two plays because they were so big and they were at such crucial moments and they were both touchdowns and you've definitely got to catch the ball."
Though Maclin is off to an excellent start, there's room for improvement. Nick Foles has misfired on several deep passes to Maclin. On passes more than 20 yards, Foles is 5 for 28 (17.8 percent) for 171 yards, three 3 TDs and three interceptions. Last year, he was 19 for 43 (44.2 percent) for 692 yards, 10 TDs and one pick.
"Unfortunately we haven't been on the same page much, but we'll continue to grow and get it going," Maclin said.
Maclin made an unusual move to accept a one-year deal instead of a longer contract the Eagles offered him. If he keeps playing like this, he'll make big bucks in free agency.
"I did the best thing for me and my family in my situation," Maclin said. "Obviously, every guy wants that long-term security but I think right now that was the best thing for me in that situation. This is definitely a place where I want to be long-term and we'll cross that bridge when it comes."
Maclin, a Missouri native, faces his hometown St. Louis Rams (1-2) when they visit the Eagles on Sunday.
"It'll be cool," Maclin said. "At the end of the day, it's just another football game and it's our job to go out there and get the job done."
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