If you can have only one of DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin, which Eagles receiver should you draft?
Uncertainty reigns among the Philadelphia Eagles' receiving corps.
Big-play maven DeSean Jackson was thought to be reinterpreting Terrell Owens' dramatic contract holdout from 2005, minus the driveway sit-ups, but indeed with Drew Rosenhaus in tow.
Jeremy Maclin, entering his prime third season, is mired in a mysterious ailment that goes beyond the depths of normal NFL secrecy.
What is certain is that Michael Vick is under center for the Birds, and he'll need some wideouts to work with as he continues his return to gridiron glory and redemption. The truly pressing question then must be asked: Which Eagles receiver is best to own on your fantasy team this season?
Both are dynamic in their own respects, with unique skill sets that seem to complement one another and afford Vick some distinct diversity in the passing game.
For starters, let's clear up the holdout situation surrounding Jackson, who is currently set to make $600,000 in base salary -- significantly less than San Diego's Vincent Jackson is set to make per game in 2011. Jackson arrived at Eagles training camp Monday, and while a new contract has yet to be forged, as Woody Allen once said, 80 percent of success is showing up. It's also worth mentioning that Jackson really had no choice but to show up to the campus of Lehigh University before Tuesday, less he'd lose his year of service toward unrestricted free agency.
Maclin, meanwhile, has been reported to have lost a good deal of weight this offseason due to a winter bout with what he called a "mono-like" illness. "It was off and on," Maclin told PhillySportsDaily.com in April. "I went for a week where I felt good, and then all of a sudden the feeling would be back."
The Eagles have claimed that, despite reports noting that Maclin is 10 to 15 pounds lighter than his playing weight, that the Missouri product is currently just a few pounds under his ideal playing number. Regardless of the exact weight loss, numerous reports from the team beat have indicated that Maclin is noticeably thinner, and most importantly, has yet to take the field in the nearly two weeks of camp so far.
"Those crazy reports aren't true," Maclin told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday in response to rumors that his unsolved illness could linger into the season and even affect his career.
Money and mystery, respectively, rule the news for the Eagles' top receivers at the moment, but taking a longer look at the position on this explosive offense, let's assume that both wideouts are ready to play come Week 1 in St. Louis.
In a fantasy context, you have to pay more for Jackson's services, with an average draft position in ESPN live drafts currently sitting at 29th overall and eighth for the position. Maclin is currently going 16th at the position and 47th overall in drafts.
The argument for Jackson's higher price tag over Maclin begins with his big-play pedigree. Jackson led the NFL in yards per catch in 2010 with a ridiculous 22.5 clip, making up for his lowly 47 receptions.
The definitive boom-or-bust option, Jackson posted fewer than five fantasy points (using ESPN standard league settings) in six of his 14 starts. As a counter to his anemic outings, he also posted 15 points or more in six of his 14 starts. He's what can be considered a "sway player" -- the type who can sway a week in the negative sense with a no-show statistical performance, but also can sway your fortunes in the winning sense with a blockbuster stretch of playmaking. With 24 scores in 45 games and 1,041 receiving yards per season, the numbers are assuredly there, they just happen to come in bunches. Jackson can beat opponents via all the football mediums available to him: returning, running and receiving.
The Eagles don't fare much differently than fantasy owners when it comes to his boom-or-bust tendencies. Jackson averaged 26.4 yards per catch and scored seven offensive touchdowns in wins that he played in last season, while he averaged just 9.7 yards per reception and recorded no touchdowns in losses he was involved in.
Dually exciting and excruciating, owning Jackson is a unique experience. On the other side of the field we have Maclin, an emerging force in his own right entering the hyped third year for a wide receiver. While we simply can't assume that Maclin is healthy and able by the start of the season, we also can't assume that he'll be significantly afflicted or statistically deflated just yet, either. With more than a month still left before kickoff, it's still a distinct possibility that Maclin will suit up and start come Week 1. The inverse is also a possibility, of course.
Several beat writers have observed that Maclin's presence in camp, albeit walking the sidelines, is a positive since it shows that his ailment, whatever it may be, isn't serious enough to keep him from attending practices in the summer heat.
In his first two seasons, Maclin has compiled an impressive 14 touchdowns in 31 games while averaging 63 receptions and 868 yards per campaign. His 45 first downs and 10 receiving scores last season best Jackson's career single-season highs. We currently have Maclin ranked as the 15th overall fantasy wideout with a projection of 149 points, or an exact point replica of his 2010 production. Maclin topped 10 points seven times last season and fell below five in just three performances (minus the Dallas debacle in the final week, in which many starters sat).
One the most telling examples of the fantasy point parity between these two can be found in Maclin's projection profile; on the 14 occasions when both wideouts played a full game last year, Maclin's fantasy points exceeded Jackson's in seven weeks and Jackson outscored Maclin in six (with one tie).
It's a close choice to make between the two wideouts, but given the similar production from a fantasy point perspective, might it make sense to go with the cheaper -- and less volatile -- commodity in Maclin?
Over a 16-game clip last season, Jackson would have been targeted roughly 110 times in 2010 to Maclin's 115. Targets aren't necessarily the key determinant with Jackson, who is known to do more with less touches, but it is clear that Vick will look to Maclin more often on shorter third-down scenarios (as the first-down metrics suggest) and on short and intermediate crossing routes when the West Coast offense is humming along. In a PPR context, Maclin is clearly your man, while in a big-play bonus league, you'll likely favor Jackson. But what about in a good-ol' traditional format?
Without conclusive evidence as to the health of Maclin at the moment, it's not easy to endorse him over Jackson -- who will likely net his extension soon enough -- but I'm going to go ahead and do so for a few reasons. Maclin boasts just as much, if not more, attention from Vick (red zone included). As strange as this might read, his health situation might actually provide value in drafts as many avoid the unknown. Risk is certainly present, but so is substantial reward. It's also of merit to consider that you can net Maclin several rounds later with more statistical consistency, if less "sway" factor than Jackson.
Jackson is already in the elite playmaker club along with his teammate Vick, while Maclin has yet to join them. But to be the better fantasy commodity in 2011, Maclin just needs to get healthy.
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN Fantasy and the high school football editor for ESPN High Schools online.