- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last week, we began a position-by-position look at each team in the division -- one post per team throughout a given day on the same position group. Today, for no real reason, I have decided to look at wide receivers. And also for no real reason, I've decided to start with the Philadelphia Eagles. Looks at the other three teams' wide receiver situations will follow as this day goes along.
Potential strength: The starters, if fully healthy and productive, have the potential to rank among the very best in the entire NFL. Jackson and Maclin have blazing speed and offer quarterback Michael Vick a pair of dynamic downfield options who are very dangerous with the ball in their hands. The belief is that Jackson will be at his best this year now that he's got his long-term contract and Maclin will be closer to the player he was in 2010 now that the health concerns of last summer are well behind him. Avant has proven himself as a slot receiver and had his best year in 2011. But as long as Jackson and Maclin are both on the field, the Eagles' wide receivers are as potentially excellent a group as any team in the league has.
Potential weakness: The criticism of the Eagles' wide receiver group has, for some time, been that it is not at its best in the red zone. Neither Jackson nor Maclin is especially tall for a wide receiver, so there has been a sense that the team needs to find and/or develop a big wideout who can create mismatches in the end zone. Cooper has the size to be that guy, but he hasn't developed the way the Eagles hope that he might in that role, and he could get a push from sixth-round draft pick McNutt, who is of similar size. Hall is another guy who's been around a while and hasn't shown much in his supposed all-purpose role. There's an opportunity for one of the newer receivers on the roster to challenge him for his spot as well.
Keep an eye on: Gilyard, who has experience as a return man. In the fight for the No. 4 and 5 wide receiver spots on the Eagles' roster, an edge is likely to go to any player who can help on special teams. (This is why McNutt is no lock to overtake Cooper, for example.) The Eagles have been using Jackson less and less in the return game over the past couple of years, and it's likely that's because they want to maximize his ability to help them as a receiver. Assuming Jackson doesn't start returning punts with the frequency with which he did prior to 2011, Gilyard could make his impact in the return game.