First Down: Return of the Mac, Eagles receiver poised to soar in ’12

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said it best, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

For Jeremy Maclin that pearl of wisdom couldn't ring truer.

At this point last year, the wideout's thoughts couldn't have been further from football. A mysterious illness, initially thought to be lymphoma, hijacked his body. It was a scary time. Weakness ensued. Pounds dropped. Insomnia kicked in. Instead of worrying about learning new wrinkles in Marty Mornhinweg's offense, he was simply trying to live to fight another day.

Eventually, when his fever lifted and appetite returned, all seemed right again. But a different set of challenges awaited the hard-luck receiver over the next few months.

Exuding the toughness of a heavyweight boxer, Maclin attempted to power through. Though hampered by additional nicks and scrapes, including a shoulder injury that cost him three games from Weeks 11-13, the Missouri product managed to post respectable numbers. His 63 catches for 859 yards and five touchdowns nearly matched his production over 16 games the year before.

Overall, he ranked as a low-end WR2 in 12-team leagues (8.9 ppg, WR24), proving to be a fantasy difference-maker during the most opportune time. His combined 13 receptions for 179 yards and a touchdown against division rivals Dallas and Washington in Weeks 16 and 17 were huge for trophy seekers.

Expect him to pick up where he left off.

Anyone and everyone affiliated with the Eagles has openly professed their love for the Mac Daddy this summer, Michael Vick in particular. From

"I think this is going to be Jeremy Maclin's best year yet," said Vick. "He has worked tremendously hard over the offseason. He has caught a ton of balls the last four-five days (of minicamp). I'm proud of him and I'm proud of his attitude most importantly."

In late-May, Vick compared Maclin to Michael Irvin. High praise. Though his character is slightly more reserved, his size/speed combination and savvy route-running skills are similar to the Hall of Famer's at his peak.

Soon the numbers may also match.

With 2011's nightmare in the rearview mirror, the 23-year-old has the makings of busting out in a major way. DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy will again carve out significant vertical roles, but Maclin is the trusted short-to-intermediate weapon for Vick, especially in the red zone. His looks inside the 20 understandably dipped last year, but his 21 targets in 2010 ranked fifth among WRs.

Most importantly for fantasy purposes, his touchdown-scoring prowess should rebound. It's unlikely McCoy will be able to repeat his 20-TD feat from a season ago. Assuming that happens, the reallocated scores could fatten No. 18's bottom line. A return to the double-digit TD class is well within reach.

Suffice it to say, at his current average draft position (57.0, WR24), Maclin is the most underappreciated wide receiver in the virtual game. His improved health, confidence from Vick, who some are also predicting will have a banner year, and Andy Reid's lust for passing (54:46 pass:run split in '11) suggest the pre-camp hype isn't baseless bluster. Ranked No. 10 on the Noise's WR board, it would be no shocker if he outpaced highly touted products Andre Johnson (19.0 ADP, WR3), Wes Welker (27.5, WR6) and Roddy White (30.1, WR8) this year.

Unlike last season, Maclin will be the cause and not the effect of chaos in 2012.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 81 receptions, 1,138 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise and be sure to check him along with Andy Behrens, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski on The Fantasy Freak Show (Now on iTunes) every Friday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on Yahoo! Sports Radio

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Dan Wetzel: Joe Paterno's role in Jerry Sandusky cover-up grows as evidence is leaked
Citing injury, Chris Bosh withdraws from U.S. Olympic basketball consideration
Video: Jessica Hardy emotional, 'grateful' for berth in London Games
Y! News: 13 million without power on East Coast after deadly storms

What to Read Next