Eagles need depth at wide receiver and tight end

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Here is the third in a series of looks at the Eagles roster:

Today: Wide receivers and tight ends

On the roster: One year ago, the combination of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin appeared to be a strong foundation at wide receiver for the foreseeable future. But Jackson’s 2012 campaign ended with an injury, and Maclin still did not eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau that he seemed capable of reaching. Both have talent, and expect both to return in 2013.

There is already discussion of becoming creative with Jackson, specifically utilizing him the way Kelly used De’Anthony Thomas at Oregon. The key is to get Jackson in space and maximize his speed and play-making abilities. That could be out of the backfield, on screens, downfield and on special teams.


What is the most pressing issue for the Eagles?

Maclin is entering the final year of his contract, and he does not expect a new deal before the season. He has the potential to be a lead receiver in the NFL, but he has not yet had done that for a season. For the sake of his next contract, he should hope 2013 is the season he does it.
The Eagles could bolster the depth at wide receiver. Riley Cooper has shown promise, and he’s one of the few true big-bodied receivers on the roster. Jason Avant is dependable and valuable in the locker room, but he’s not particularly fast and is approaching 30. Marvin McNutt and Damaris Johnson remain unproven. Greg Salas did not play in a game. Ronald Johnson is coming off a major injury, and B.J. Cunningham did not get promoted from the practice squad last year. The Eagles also signed two receivers to futures deals.

Brent Celek leads the tight ends. He’s been a steady performer who is also a strong presence in the locker room, but he’s also getting older and has endured a physical toll on the body. He can use a strong complement, which is what the Eagles hoped Clay Harbor would become. Harbor has offered flashes but finished with only 25 catches last season before an injury cost him the final two games. Evan Moore never had much of an effect when he joined the team in the final month, and Derek Carrier stayed on practice squad.

Not on the roster: Look for some new additions at both wide receiver and tight end. It’s a loaded free agent class, but the Eagles would need to pay big money to land Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace or Wes Welker. Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent who would cost the Eagles a pick based on his tender. Danario Alexander would be an intriguing option because of his size if he does not garner a high tender.

A big-bodied wide receiver would give the Eagles something they’re missing. Don’t expect the Eagles to spend a first-round pick on a receiver. Virginia Tech’s Marcus Davis is a big receiver who could be taken in a middle round. If the Eagles are looking for the versatile receiver to be used in different roles, few are better in the NFL than West Virginia’s Tavon Austin. Of course, he would require a pick late in the first round or early in the second round.

At tight end, the Giants’ Martellus Bennett and the Jets’ Dustin Keller will both be on the market. The player with the most potential could be Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley if he becomes available. Ravens backup tight end Ed Dickson, a former Oregon standout under Kelly, is a restricted free agent.

The draft is loaded at that spot. The top tight ends are Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz, but both might go in the first round. After that, pay attention to Florida’s Jordan Reed and Stanford’s Levine Toilolo, both of whom are intriguing options.

Coming tomorrow: Tackles