Being the quarterback, it goes without saying that Michael Vick will be the biggest key to success for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. However, he is also surrounded by the best supporting cast on offense during the Andy Reid era.
Players like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek all make life easier on a quarterback and Vick needs to utilize them to the fullest extent. But, just how good are they? And are they the only weapons at his disposal?
Let’s take a look and rank Vick’s weapons by order of skillset, importance to the offense and importance to Vick’s overall success. We will also take a look at where they rank as compared to the rest of the NFL.
*Note – I’ve included rankings from two sources: ESPN and Pro Football Focus (PFF). ESPN’s rankings are strictly based on yards produced while PFF accounts for not only a player’s stats, but also various other factors involved.
For example, for receivers they account for targets, reception percentage based on those targets, dropped passes, yards after the catch, fumbles, blocking, and penalties (and that’s not even the complete list).
5. Vick’s legs
Yes, his legs. Vick’s running ability has to be accounted for and is certainly a top weapon at his disposal. He uses them to escape danger and stay alive in the pocket as well as make big plays by running down the field.
When teams face him, the first thing they think about is how to contain him. Last season, Vick ran the ball 76 times for 589 yards and one TD. In 2010, he ran it 100 times for 676 yards and nine TDs.
Even though Andy Reid wants Vick to play smarter (aka, run less) in an effort to stay healthy, he will still be a threat to break contain and make a big play with his legs. Defenses will still have to game-plan for that and it just adds another dimension to the Eagles’ offense.
Only Cam Newton and Tim Tebow rushed for more yards from the QB position last year.
4. Jeremy Maclin
After a serious health scare last summer, Maclin turned in a pretty good season in 2011. He was a little rusty early on as he made a few untimely mistakes in a few games that ended a bid for a comeback victory.
However, he ended the season strong and posted 63 receptions for 859 yards and five TDs. Probably most importantly, four of his TD catches came from inside the red zone. He was tied for Vick’s second-most targeted receiver in the red zone as well (12 targets, eight catches, four TDs).
This means that Vick tends to look in his direction down towards the goal line, which is a good indication that he trusts Maclin will make the play. Though he has yet to top 1,000 yards in a season, Maclin has proven to be steady in averaging 13.7 yards per catch over his three-year career.
Maclin has good speed, but he has established himself as a good No. 2 receiver (or “x” receiver as the Eagles call it) and has become the primary intermediate and sometimes possession receiver, though he is still capable of making the big play.
ESPN WR rank: 30th
PFF rank: 42nd
3. Brent Celek
I have Celek ranked as Vick’s third-best weapon only because he’s kept in to block often. Otherwise, he could rank higher and depending on how often he is called on to block, he may very well end up being Vick’s No. 1 in 2012.
Tight ends are usually a quarterback’s best friend. They do the dirty work at the line and then provide a sack-saving check-down option that can bail a QB out of trouble. They’re also good at catching passes in traffic, especially in the red zone.
Celek is no exception. He provides these attributes for Vick to utilize. In 2010, Vick didn’t seem to know Celek existed and he only caught 42 passes for 511 yards and four TDs. Granted, he blocked much of the time, but he had a down year as compared to his breakout season in 2009 (76 catches, 971 yards, eight TDs).
Last season, Vick began to look for him more and more as the season went on. Celek ended the season with 62 catches for 811 yards and five TDs. This included a team-high 17 targets in the red zone with 10 catches and four of his TDs.
Obviously, Celek was Vick’s main man in red zone. Again, this is important to note because being efficient in the red zone is often the difference between winning and losing. If you aren’t reliable in this area of the field, the QB will rarely look your way.
ESPN rank: 7th
PFF rank: 14th
2. DeSean Jackson
Jackson is the player that not only produces electrifying big plays, he opens up the offense for everybody else. At least to some extent, we can attribute his presence on the field for the production of every other skill player on offense.
Defenses have to respect Jackson’s speed and big play ability. Many times, he requires a safety over the top to help defend against the long ball. And when that happens, it leaves a dearth of opportunity for the underneath routes where you see Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Brent Celek exploit.
Heck, it even helps open up running lanes for LeSean McCoy and, at times, Vick himself.
Jackson has his critics, though. Many think he’s just too small, is injury prone, disappears for stretches and is almost invisible in the red zone. Furthermore, some point to his down year in 2011 and his behavior as reasons why he’s not all he’s cracked-up to be.
However, even in a down-year, he still produced 58 catches for 961 yards and four TDs.
I attribute Jackson’s 2011 performance to a mixture of immaturity and feeling a little slighted by the team in regards to his contract (rightfully so). I have no doubt that he’ll be back in 2012 and producing his trademark big plays and contributing to the offense like he did the previous two seasons.
In 2009 and 2010, Jackson amassed 2,212 yards on 109 receptions for a whopping 20.3 yard per-catch average. He also scored 18 TDs (15 receiving and three on punt returns).
Jackson is what he is: a guy who is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field that defenses must account for on every play. He’s not going to be the big receiver who catches passes in traffic, but he’s the guy that can burn you in the blink of an eye.
His value to the Eagles’ offense is tremendous in terms of what this team likes to do.
ESPN rank: 21st
PFF rank: 63rd
1. LeSean McCoy
Without a doubt, McCoy is Michael Vick’s best weapon. A good running game is priceless for a quarterback, especially one that wants to stay healthy.
McCoy is a special player and has even been compared to Barry Sanders in his running style. He’s not overly fast in straight-line speed, but he’s quick and elusive. He almost always makes the first guy miss and he never allows himself to take a big hit.
In 2011, he flourished under the new scheme implemented by Howard Mudd when he ran for 1,309 yards and 17 TDs. He also added 48 receptions for 315 yards and three more TDs.
In the red zone, he was at his best where he rushed 50 times and scored 14 of his TDs. He was also tied for second in receiving targets with 12 and posted eight catches and three TDs. This means that 17 out of his 20 TDs came from within the red zone.
That’s outstanding production in the most important area of the field.
The better McCoy produces, the better off Vick will be. Being able to run the ball effectively means defenses have to respect it and not play “kill the passer” because they don’t think you can run on them.
And when you add in McCoy’s reliability as a check-down receiver, he is truly an invaluable weapon for the offense.
ESPN rank: 4th
PFF rank: 10th
Jason Avant has been a reliable slot receiver during his six-year career in Philly. Last season, he posted 52 catches for 679 yards and one TD. Even though he only played in 55.8% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2011, he was targeted only 14 times less than Maclin.
Avant is also Mr. First Down. Out of his 52 catches last season, 33 went for first downs with 15 coming on third-down plays. He has proven to have good hands, works the middle of the field well and helps bail Vick out of trouble by providing an open target.
New draft pick Marvin McNutt also has the tools to become a valuable weapon in the passing game. He’s 6′ 3″, 215 lbs with great hands and leaping ability. He has the potential to become a red zone threat this season and could ultimately replace Avant in the slot.
As a matter of fact, Matt Bowen of the National Football Post uses McNutt as an example of how a wide receiver wins in the red zone on a slant route vs. press coverage. Here is the video:
If he catches on quickly, both figuratively and literally, McNutt can add some great value to the offense in 2012.