It’s been nearly three months since the Philadelphia Eagles showed DeSean Jackson the door. It was a heavily scrutinized move until the back story came out. Ever since his departure, the Eagles have tried to replace arguably the most explosive wide receiver in the NFL. Although a task is easier said than done, the birds found a way to replace Jackson by a very complex and less expensive recipe that comes in multiple flavors. They found a way to bring new weapons to their offense that fit Chip Kelly’s system, and as a group, boast the same skillset as Jackson.
Jackson’s 4.3 speed may be the most apparent threat on the field, but there is an underlying element to his game that fans overlooked, his presence. Even when he didn’t produce, defenses never stymied their focus on him. Every Sunday, he was the focal point of the secondary. What distanced him the most from other wide receivers was his skillset. Jackson was Kelly’s favorite offensive toy, as he used Jackson in every way a wide receiver could be used, whether it was on the punt return team or running end arounds, jet sweeps or reverses. In a nutshell, Jackson’s presence and wide array of usage were what merited him as the most explosive receiver in the league.
Although there aren’t a lot of Jacksons just walking around center city Philadelphia waiting to sign a contract, there are many players with similar skillsets.
Darren Sproles is a prime example. He may not have anywhere close to the threat Jackson poses when he steps on the turf, but his game-breaking speed alone will draw attention from defenses, which is half the battle. Jackson’s presence alone garnered coverage on him, which opened up the field for the other skill players. LeSean McCoy will especially miss Jackson. Without No. 10 split out wide, McCoy will likely face denser front sevens this season. A player like Sproles will once again force defenses to distribute their focus on more than one player. This was the key spice in Kelly’s offensive recipe, by forcing defenses to role the dice on who they will take out of the play, which opens the field up for the everyone else.
Although Sproles is a multidimensional player, he will line up primarily in the backfield. Kelly won’t break his offensive protocol and line Sproles out wide just to fill a hole in his offense. He will need a new wide receiver to fill that void. Jordan Matthews is the perfect man for the job. His 40-yard dash time may be a hair slower than Jackson, but he stands at a stout 6-foot-3. He was used all over the field during his time at Vanderbilt, and Kelly will look to continue that trend at the next level. Matthews fits the “offensive toy” mold perfectly; he was used on punt returns, as well as an occasional end-around while at Vanderbilt. For those who still doubt Matthews’ speed, watch this play against Tennessee this past season.
Current Eagles veterans are already seeing Matthews’ potential during OTA’s. “I can see Matthews has a quick first step,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “I can see him being very explosive out of breaks. And once he gets his hands on the ball, he looks like someone who can break a couple tackles and take a simple, six-yard curl into an 80-yard play.”
By no means does this categorize Matthews as a poor man’s Jackson, but he brings the large repertoire of skills that Jackson boasted in his six seasons in the midnight green.
Conclusively, the duo of Sproles and Matthews will help plug the hole Jackson left by way of their combined skillset and versatility. Although they will not replace Jackson, they still carry his constituent elements, just in multiple bodies.
In isolation, the two are one dimensional, but in Kelly’s offense, they will combine their skills and create the same presence that struck fear in opposing defense’s hearts. With Jackson’s new job with NFC East rival Washington Redskins, it may take some time for fans to forget No. 10. However, with Sproles and Matthews on the field at the same time, they will bring a similar kind of presence that will open up the field for everyone else on the offense.