In the fantasy world in which I can ask people in the Eagles organization questions (and actually get them answered) the player I'd most like to talk to right now would be Kevin Curtis.
I think there's a misconception around here that I don't really like the guy. That's not true at all. My one concern over the years has been that for all his timed speed, he doesn't play as a deep threat. There's nothing wrong with being a terrific short and intermediate target, but an inability to scare teams deep has been an issue for a couple of years. So my point all along has been that Curtis isn't that guy and they shouldn't be trying to use him that way.
Which doesn't change the fact that the dude put up great numbers when he was healthy in 2007 and generally proved to be the best wide receiver this team has had since Terrell Owens (at least until DeSean Jackson reaches his ceiling).
But now, with shiny new toys Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy around, not to mention citywide crush Jackson and center-of-the-universe Brian Westbrook, Curtis is very much the forgotten man in the Eagles' offense these days.
Curtis missed the last mini-camp after his most recent groin surgery, and that gave Maclin a chance to show his stuff (in shorts and t-shirts). His performance there got Garry Cobb writing stories about how Curtis is a starting wide receiver "for now." (And now today we're getting conspiracy theories.)
Ho boy. It's settle-down time, for sure.
I'm as excited about Maclin as anyone. His game-breaking speed is going to make him an immediate asset, both on offense and (most likely) special teams. Everyone says he's a smart guy, he has no off-field issues, and the idea of DeSean and Jeremy growing old together gives me the warm and fuzzies.
With that said, barring a bunch of injuries his ceiling for the 2009 season is as the #3 wide receiver. And it's not guaranteed he'll even get there.
DeSean Jackson was a special case. He clearly has all the talent in the world, but he had other advantages as well:
- He came from a pro-style offense.
- As the one offensive "new guy" he got all the coaching/mentoring he could handle.
- Injuries meant they had no choice but to play him.
- He clearly has a high football IQ.
The fact that Jackson was the first rookie WR to have great success in this offense isn't proof that every rookie can do likewise -- it suggests it may take a special guy to pull it off.
Maclin will have value as a guy with the ball in his hands, there's no question. But his greatest immediate value may come from his ability to create space in the offense for everyone else. If Maclin and Jackson are pushing those safeties deep, there's going to be all kinds of room for the other guys to run around in.
Consider the Cowboys, as an example. What made the Barber/Witten/Owens combo so dangerous is that they could threaten you at all levels of the field. You loaded up at the line, they'd hit you deep. Drop your safeties and Witten ran wild in the middle of the field. Play coverages and Barber gashed you up the gut.
With the new offensive line and the addition of Maclin, the Eagles might now be in that same position. Teams are going to have to respect the deep ball, they know the Eagles will run at least 18 times a game, and if the middle of the field is open, Curtis will kill you all day on those 15 yard in routes they should just call "KCs."
So that's one reason I expect Curtis to put up numbers this year. The other is that there's no guarantee DeSean will take a big step forward in his second season. We all love the guy, but just for some perspective I took a look at the top rookie wide receivers, starting with the 2000 season, to see how they did in their second year. Here are all the guys with at least 40 catches or 500 yards as rookies:
That's pretty close to an even split between guys who got better and guys who got worse.
And if you think I'm going too broad, here are the guys who had at least 60 catches and 900 yards (DeSean territory):
I doubt we have another Michael Clayton on our hands, but it goes to show nothing is guaranteed. (Yes, I know, Anquan got hurt. Injuries are always on the table.)
All of which is why I think Curtis is going to be a very big part of the offense this year, no matter how much we spend the next four months talking about everyone else. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he leads the team in receptions again.
In the parallel universe, here are the questions for which I'd love to get Curtis drunk -- which, for obvious reasons, would be rather difficult -- to see what he would say:
What's the real deal with his groin?
How he sees his role next year.
If the secret handshake deal he has with the Eagles to not play the slot has an expiration date.
How much more effective he thinks he could be with a quarterback who could actually throw a decent slant pattern (it's not just fades that work down by the goal line).
I'll keep you informed of my efforts to reach him through his people. Should hear back any day now, I'm sure.