One area that DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and the Philadelphia Eagles’ receiving corps can improve upon in 2013 is yards after the catch. YAC is a good stat to look at when analyzing the play of a wide receiver, particularly their toughness and athletic ability.
When you think of the best wide receivers in the NFL, you think of guys like Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin, Demaryius Thomas and, unfortunately, Dez Bryant.
What do all of those guys have in common? They were all within the NFL’s top-10 in the YAC category, according to Pro Football Focus.
Besides noting that many of the best receivers excel in running after the catch, I also happened to notice that eight of the top 10 receivers, as well as 10 of the top 12, were on a team that made the playoffs in 2012.
Correlation or coincidence? I’m not saying that teams need a receiver with great YAC skills in order to make the playoffs, but rather good coaches who know how best to utilize the skills of the players they have.
Maybe Chip Kelly will be able to do what Andy Reid always tried to do and actually put his players in a better position.
The Eagles were dreadful in numerous areas last year and among those areas was the receivers getting positive yards after making a catch.
Collectively, the Eagles’ wide receivers posted 895 yards after the catch (Jackson 249, Maclin 284, Cooper 84, Avant 173, Johnson 105). The top six receivers in the NFL in YAC each had more than half of that total by themselves.
Here’s where the Eagles’ receivers ranked in that category in 2012: Maclin 33rd, Jackson 45th, Avant 63rd, Johnson 86th, and Cooper 96th. All other NFC East teams didn’t have their top receiver rank below 23rd, and that guy missed most of the season (Redskins’ Garcon).
This is not a slight on the Eagles’ WR corps. The problem was a combination of coaching, play calling, quarterbacking and the offensive line. In other words, the offense was a disaster last year.
If you go back to the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the last years where we could say the Eagles’ offense was “good”, DeSean Jackson ranked within the top 13 both seasons.
Getting yards after the catch is crucial for an offense that makes the short and intermediate game its bread and butter. It also makes an offense that much more explosive and dangerous when the skill guys can make things happen in the open field.
This is where Chip Kelly may have a significant influence. If he utilizes the same concepts on offense that he did while at Oregon, the short and intermediate passing game should be a staple and YAC will be a large part of the success (or failure).
Quick inside slants and particularly, Chip’s “bubble zone read” (aka, bubble screens), will give guys like Jackson and Maclin plenty of chances to utilize their skill and athleticism to make plays with their legs.
For a good read on Chip’s bubble zone read, check out this article over at fishduck.com. It goes hand-in-hand with the zone read option running game. It’s a good read if you have the time.
This is why Kelly wants a quick decision-maker at quarterback. For these bubble screens and getting the ball out quickly to your play-makers, the QB needs to read and react in a very short period of time.
Besides the screens, because they are designed to have adequate blocking, I do wonder how well Jackson and Maclin will react to plays that are designed to be quick strikes closer to the line of scrimmage where catching the football becomes more perilous.
It is dangerous to go over the middle of a defense on those inside slants and shallow crosses, as DeSean Jackson can attest after being concussed in 2011 on such a route. Maclin, in particular, seems to be a little soft when it comes to contact.
Jackson and Maclin’s best attribute is their speed. If they can find ways to get these guys the ball with a little room to run it would make a world of difference in Chip’s offense.
The question is, are these guys “tough enough” to do it?
Jackson and Maclin aren’t the biggest guys going. Maclin is 6′, 195 lbs while Jackson goes 5′ 10″, 175 lbs. The good news is that size doesn’t seem to be all that important when it comes to YAC.
Percy Harvin is all of 5′ 11″, 184 lbs — a little bigger than Jackson but a little smaller than Maclin — and he had the 5th-most YAC in 2012. Then you have guys like Randall Cobb at 5′ 10″, 191 lbs and T.Y. Hilton at 5′ 9″, 183 lbs who came in 9th and 11th respectively.
Of course, the king of YAC is little big man Wes Welker, who at 5′ 9″, 185 lbs routinely comes in at the top of the league in this category.
Maclin has the size and speed to excel in this area just as much as any of these guys. The question with him, is, does he have the heart? He earned the nickname “self tacklin’ Jeremy Maclin” due to his penchant for going down before contact (credit to @Jimmy_Beast who came up with that one).
Jackson, meanwhile, I think has the heart. His problem has more to do with his skinny build.
Those other guys I mentioned above, while smallish given their height and weight, are more muscular and compact than Jackson. DeSean is the type of receiver that, if he takes a clean hit over the middle, you wonder if he’ll be able to get up.
With that said, in 2009 and 2010, the last year of Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick’s renaissance year, Jackson ranked 11th and 13th in the NFL in yards after the catch. Maclin has never come in ranked higher than 31st in this category in his four seasons in the league (30th, 38th, 31st and 33rd respectively).
Both guys will get their chances to be playmakers this season. I think Jackson will excel and get back to being towards the top of the league in the YAC category. If Maclin can get more physical and play with an attitude, he should be right there with Jackson, if not better.
In any case, Chip Kelly’s offense promises to get the best out of all their skill guys. That should include plenty of plays designed for the receivers to get yards after the catch and make something happen with their legs.
If they succeed, it may have a significant impact on the outcome of the season.