It didn't take long for it to start.
The first several minutes of the Chiefs signing Jeremy Maclin were filled with shock, elation, and a general sense of camaraderie among Chiefs fans that hasn't been seen since... well sometime before the playoff loss to the Colts in 2013.
(Takes a deep breath, reminds self that it was time to move on awhile ago)
But as with all good things, the euphoria was short-lived. At least, the UNANIMOUS elation. I don't know who said it first, but within about an hour or so there were three trains of thought regarding Maclin that were doing their best to douse the fire of enthusiasm.
1) Maclin was just a product of Chip Kelly's system.
2) Alex Smith will never throw to him deep, so it won't matter.
3) With how weak the offensive line is, it won't matter.
Now, I'm not going to even delve into who Alex Smith is or isn't. We've been there, done that. However, that first criticism of the move (the idea that Maclin is nothing more than a product of Captain Duck) gave me pause.
I had only watched a couple of Eagles games this year. I'd never spent any time focusing on Maclin. Truth be told, I considered the speculation that he might one day want to re-join Andy Reid on the Chiefs to be ridiculous. Long story short, I knew very little about him as a player.
You know where this is headed. I fired up the computer, packed up all the food and water I could find, kissed the wife and kids goodbye, and locked myself in a room. It was time to review the film.
Eleven games later, I've emerged a little tired, a lot excited, and probably divorced (she can't leave me if she won't talk to me! It's genius!). I'm also a lot more informed about Jeremy Maclin than I was however many hours ago. I mean, I'm almost certain I let a couple of guilty defendants walk. But these are the sacrifices one makes in order to learn things, no?
I have a lot to tell you about Jeremy Maclin. Have a seat, tell your boss you're off the clock, grab a snack, and let's take a trip together into the world of "what a really good wide receiver looks like."
Jeremy Maclin: The numbers
So let's get down to context. Every route Maclin ran against the Jaguars, Colts, Redskins, 49ers, Texans, Cardinals, Panthers, Cowboys (second game), Packers, Giants (first game), and Seahawks was watched. Why that group of teams? Well, the first four because they were the first four games of the season. Then (after taking about an hour and a half to two hours to watch those games) the author of this piece remembered he has a full time job and a bunch of kids.
So some choices were made. I chose the remaining team based in part due to pass defense DVOA ranking (I wanted to pick tough teams), and also in part by random choice. It's worth noting, that of the teams Maclin faced, the Colts (10th), 49ers (fourth), Texans (sixth), Panthers (ninth), and Seahawks (third) were top 10 teams in pass defense DVOA. It's also worth noting that several of those teams have corners who are considered top-notch. So it's a great selection to see how Maclin does against good competition.
Now is a good time to mention that I didn't record EVERY snap Maclin took on passing downs in those games. I only recorded "routes." What's the difference? I excluded bubble screens and blocking plays from this analysis (at least statistically). The reason for this is that neither of those types of plays are really a "route." Maclin isn't getting open when he has a pass thrown his way on a screen; he's just standing there. So I felt to include those numbers would skew things in his favor.
Finally, what was I recording? Four things
1) Routes run: I mean, c'mon guys. If you don't know what I mean by this, I can't help you.
2) Times open: Here I recorded the plays Maclin gained separation from his defender or found the open spot in a zone. Through this, I'll obviously get a percentage of how often Maclin was open. We'll call that "separation percentage."
3) Uncatchable passes: I want a more accurate assessment of what Maclin did with his targets. Some of the times Maclin was "targeted" the throws were wildly inaccurate (a problem for both his QB's). By charting these throws we can get a better idea of what Maclin's "real" catch percentage is.
4) Drops: You know, like drops.
|Routes||Routes Open||Separation %||Uncatchable Passes||Drops|
The first thing to note on that chart is the unreal number of snaps Maclin was open. After the first game I reviewed (the Jaguars game) I thought it was some kind of fluke that Maclin was constantly open. After all ... it was the Jaguars.
Then it happened again against the Colts. And the Redskins. And the 49ers. And in every other game Maclin played in. The only game in which Maclin got open closer to a quarter of his routes than half was against the Cowboys, where Brandon Carr gave him some problems (it's worth noting that even in that game Maclin was open on well over a quarter of his routes).
And while we'll talk about Maclin as a player in the next section, it's important that we get something out of the way right now. I'm going to go out of character and bold the next statement, as if you're going to take ANYTHING out of this article it needs to be this:
While Chip Kelly's offensive system is creative and does a good job forcing zone defenses to make poor choices, Maclin was constantly beating man coverage and noticeably adjusting his routes to get into the "open" areas of zones. It was absolutely, totally, not scheme-dependent.
We'll talk about that more later, but let's return to the numbers first. As you can see, Maclin had a number of uncatchable passes thrown his way. What made that number really hurt was just how many of those plays were ones in which Maclin had created separation down the field. It is absolutely not an exaggeration to say that a dozen potential touchdown plays never happened due to poor throws down the field. Nick Foles is willing to take shots, but his accuracy was spotty at best. Mark Sanchez took a lot fewer shots and was even worse accuracy-wise.
Basically, while Maclin did benefit from Kelly's scheme, he was also hindered significantly by quarterbacks who made poor throws. And that's not even counting the number of snaps Maclin was open and did not have the ball thrown to him. I would conservatively estimate that number to be well over a hundred times (not a typo). Foles and Sanchez were just simply not good at finding the open man on the field, instead forcing the ball to early reads regardless of coverage.
All of this is a long way of saying that Maclin is a very good receiver, not an "OK" receiver on a great offense.
I did chart four drops, which is more than what other stat-tracking sites noted. Then again, I was being as picky as possible in order to keep this from becoming a homer-laced love letter (yeah, right).
Anyway, if you just came here for the numbers, feel free to stop here or skip ahead to the conclusions. If instead you're looking for way too many pictures and words on a free agent wide receiver, proceed.
Jeremy Maclin On Film
It's exceedingly difficult to organize pages of relatively random notes into anything coherent. So in an effort to make this somewhat organized, we'll start with the things I saw about Maclin I didn't like, then move onto the things I did.
Maclin's biggest weakness as a receiver is his inability to break tackles. This was something we were told by Philly fans, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. Over the course of all 11 games I could count the number of tackles broken by Maclin and not run out of fingers (I have 10, just to be clear). Whether a defender is a lineman or a cornerback, if they get an arm on Maclin he's going down in all likelihood.
An additional issue with Maclin that is somewhat related is his "winning at the catch point." In other words, when he's in tight coverage and it's a 50/50 tossup between him and the corner, he's not particularly good at coming down with the ball (though it didn't result in any picks so... yay "defense" Mac?). He's got good hands, but it just seemed to be out of his comfort zone (though the effort appeared to be there).
A pair of smaller issues (as in things that only happened a few times) involved occasional jogging and subpar blocking effort. Maclin GENERALLY goes all out (or at least fakes it) when the ball isn't coming his way. But every now and then he'd jog out a route. That's a pet peeve of mine, so even though it happened just a few times it stuck out. And even when the effort is there, Maclin is not going to be an elite blocker. He'll throw his body in the way most of the time, but that's about it. Of course, that's generally all you can expect from a receiver, but he's not Dwayne Bowe in that respect.
Now, about stuff to like...
The first and most important aspect of Maclin is his speed and quickness. He's just really, really, really fast. He creates separation down the field multiple times a game, every game. I could have taken dozens of screen shots like this one.
It's worth noting the corner in this shot was in off-man coverage at the snap, and he STILL couldn't keep Maclin from getting behind him. That kind of speed is simply too much for most corners to handle. If they don't get their hips turned and start running with him immediately, he's gone. And frankly, even when they DO Maclin often just outruns them down the field.
Even at the end of a half when the corner KNEW Maclin had to run deep, he couldn't keep up.
The corner was 15 yards off the line of scrimmage here. He knew Maclin had no choice but to run a go route. And he couldn't stay in front of him. They always say you can't teach speed. And whoever they are, they're right.
Also, it's worth noting that in the above screenshot Foles threw such a poor pass down the field that it was intercepted. Once again, this idea that Maclin was just feeding off the system is completely in error. This is a touchdown with a good throw and a gigantic gain with a decent one.
One more picture of deep separation, just so we can say hi to an old friend.
Everyone wave to Brandon Carr!
All chop-busting of the Chiefs former CB aside, Carr gave Maclin trouble at times with extremely physical coverage. He essentially kept his hands on Maclin constantly down the field and took advantage of no flags (I call it "The Sherman Technique"). When Carr couldn't get ahold of Maclin, stuff like the above picture happened.
"But wait, MN, Alex Smith never throws deep! Maclin won't fit here!"
Thought I'd just say that for you. Calm down, it's going to be OK. We'll see if Smith is willing to throw deep to a guy who gets separation deep (he did with Albert Wilson at times, so we'll see).
However, Maclin is a lot more than a "go route" guy. He runs every route you can think of, and does it well. He's got great flexibility and change-of-direction. He's very quick in and out of cuts and has flexible hips. He's also very savvy when he runs routes, turning more than one (or two, or three) corner around with several subtle fakes in a row.
Also, Maclin basically has a cheat code in place when he runs routes, because corners are forced to worry about the deep throw every single snap. They can't simply press him constantly at the line because if they don't catch him, he's GONE. As far as handling the press, Maclin has a very good stutter and is generally capable of keeping corners from getting their hands on him. When they do make contact, he's very aggressive with his hand-fighting (though I'd call the results average), which is surprising given the lack of physicality in the rest of his game.
But at the end of the day it's simply much easier to gain separation on "shorter" routes when defenders have to respect your deep speed. Quite often, Maclin had defenders backed off 10-15 yards (or even more occasionally) from the line of scrimmage. Which results in plays like this.
There's just nothing you can do about this as a corner. When you've given a guy like Maclin a 10-yard cushion and are anticipating a deep route, there's no way to make up the distance when Maclin cuts back. He's simply too quick and is too good a route-runner (not many wasted steps for Maclin, another thing to like about him).
Again, I could show you a couple dozen pictures that are some variant of that situation. Whether Maclin runs a curl route like the above pick, or dig route all the way across the field...
Or on a comeback route...
... Maclin puts defenders in a situation where there's no way to be certain of keeping him covered. Maclin used curls, comebacks, outs, and digs constantly as a way of making defenders pay for trying to cheat deep.
Of course, defenders KNOW Maclin does this, and then start anticipating some kind of quick cut rather than the deep ball. Which, of course, leads to Maclin countering with the most obvious move... stop-and-go routes that lead to this:
What do you do as the defender here? If you don't respect the deep ball you risk Maclin running right by you. If you cheat deep he'll use his route-running and quickness to gain instant separation 5-15 yards from the line of scrimmage. If you try and account for THAT he'll break your ankles with a stop and go (if I were a little less lazy I would gif the above play. The picture shows the separation, but the fake was sublime).
No good options. And that's what happens when a receiver has good deep speed, quickness, and a solid grasp of how to run routes at the professional level. Maclin has the ability to get open extremely quickly due to those traits. This shot is roughly a second after the snap.
The defender here very aggressively pressed Maclin at the line. Maclin reacted with a well-placed shove to the shoulder pads and a stutter to the outside, gaining really quick separation. Foles could have easily lofted the ball up for Maclin to catch up to and the defender would have been helpless to stop it.
That picture is for those worried about the offensive line preventing Maclin from having an impact (though John Dorsey is certainly doing what he can to take care of that problem). Maclin is capable of getting open so quickly that on many snaps a quarterback can look his way immediately. Does that mean the line doesn't matter? Of course not, not if we want to threaten to push the ball down the field (and, of course, Smith must be better there as well). But a player who can separate immediately allows for more (and more effective) quick throws.
Another thing to like about Maclin is how well he did with bubble screens. As you may have noticed, Andy Reid loves him some bubble screens. And with Maclin, we have a player who can take this pass...
... and go 80 yards for a touchdown. The above play was called back due to a poor decision by an offensive lineman (that didn't affect the play), but it demonstrates what Maclin brings to the table with the ball in his hands.
Even though Maclin is not a guy who breaks tackles, his speed in the open field is terrifying. He also shows good vision and understands how to set up blockers to maximize yardage. He and Albert Wilson are going to be scary together with their YAC skills. Plus, it's fun to say "YAC," so we all win.
And beyond all this, Maclin shows the ability to set corners up nicely with multiple moves. He repeatedly turned good corners around with nuanced, multiple-fake moves. The results were moments like these...
Look at the corners' hips in all three of those plays. They're turned around and their lower body isn't going the same direction their upper body is trying to go. I could be wrong, but I'm almost certain that's not an efficient way to catch up with a guy like Maclin.
Also, notice the first two pictures are against the Cardinals? Jeremy Maclin abused Patrick Peterson so badly it completely changed my opinion of him as a corner. I'd always thought he was a little overrated, but now I'm not even sure he's that good. Maclin beat him badly over the entirety of that game. He could have gone for 400 yards if they'd thrown to him every snap.
Also, does the corner in that last picture look familiar? Richard Sherman was matched up against Maclin on the majority of his routes when the Eagles played the Seahawks. And after a rough start (Sherman erased Maclin on the first 4-5 snaps), Maclin ended up doing very well against a tough Seahawks defense.
"But MN, ESPN tells me he only had 3 catches for 24 yards!"
I know. That's why I paid special attention to this game; I wanted to highlight what went wrong in a game Maclin "struggled." The problem is he DIDN'T struggle. On 21 actual routes against the Seahawks, Maclin was open on 10 of them... right up there with his season average.
Now, Sherman absolutely blanketed him on some snaps, make no mistake. But on multiple other snaps Maclin was able to get away from Sherman. it essentially boiled down to whether Sherman was able to keep his hands on Maclin throughout the snap. If he did, he kept Maclin out of the play. If Maclin shook free, he was able to separate from Sherman almost as frequently as any other corner he played. It's worth noting Maclin was able to break free from coverage regardless of the competition.
So ... good signing?
Yes, Jeremy Maclin was a good signing. He's very fast, very quick, has good hands, runs good routes, flashes great playmaking ability with the ball in his hands, and can line up all over the field (which he did, though he was on the ride sideline most often). He tracks the ball well over his shoulder when it's in the air, is able to beat any corner pretty consistently, finds the open areas against zone coverage, and is generally an incredible pain for defenses to account for.
Does this mean Maclin is going to go for 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns next year, or that he's flawless? No. He can get caught up in the press at times and doesn't break tackles well at all. He does have weaknesses. They're just vastly outweighed by his strengths.
Maclin is a good fit for this offense and for what Andy Reid wants to do. I walked into his film with high expectations and was still impressed, particularly with how well he performed against multiple good corners. He's absolutely a number 1 wide receiver.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go dream dreams of 30+ points per game on the backs of Jamaal Charles, Maclin, and Travis Kelce.