As we approach the 2012 season, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson is one of the most polarizing players in fantasy football. Jackson, who signed a five-year contract in March worth a reported $47 million, had been embroiled in a contract dispute with the Eagles for the last two years and it was a relief for both Jackson and the Eagles to finally get a long-term deal done. Jackson has also had concussion issues which, along with the contract dispute, drastically affected his play last year. Before delving into the analysis of Jackson, let's take a look at his career statistics:
During his four years with the Eagles, Jackson has averaged more than 1,000 yards per season and 17.8 yards per reception. He is one of the rare wide receivers that can deliver fantasy starter production in spite of a relatively low number of receptions. Jackson's worst fantasy season in standard scoring leagues was a 29th place finish as a rookie. Since then, he has finished 4th, 14th, and 27th, respectively. While Jackson is an electrifying player and his big-play ability is apparent, his boom-or-bust style can cause problems for fantasy owners, namely those that do not like the ups and downs associated with a player whose game revolves around big plays.
So what can we expect from Jackson this year? Will he return to the form that led to back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and top-15 fantasy finishes or will his disappointing 2011 season serve as new baseline? It basically comes down to optimism versus skepticism, and there are reasons to feel both ways.
There are reasons to be optimistic about Jackson in 2012
Jackson does not have any contract issues. There is little doubt that Jackson's contract issues affected his play and caused him to lose his focus at times in 2011. Jackson was a holdout for the first 11 days of training camp and was admittedly concerned about being injured while not having the security of a long-term contract to protect him. Jackson's play was timid at times last year, including an incident of alligator arms against the Patriots that resulted in him being benched. While some believe the series of prior concussions was the reason for Jackson being gun shy, it is possible that the lack of a contract and the long-term security that goes with it contributed to Jackson's timid play as much as the concussions did.
This is Michael Vick's first full offseason as the Eagles' starting quarterback. While Vick was the starter entering last season, the lockout caused the cancellation of all offseason activities and a delay in the start of training camp. That was a huge blow to the Eagles because Vick was entering his first training camp as the starter and the majority of the offseason was eliminated. That along with Jeremy Maclin's illness slowed the progress of the Eagles' offense, and the unit was never really in sync all year. This year should be much different as Vick and the rest of the Eagles will have a full offseason to prepare.
The Eagles' Dream Team persona should be in the past. Let's face facts: The whole Dream Team saga created a no-win situation for the Eagles last year. They signed several big name free agents for the defense and were automatically proclaimed by many as the Super Bowl favorites. The reality was that a new defensive scheme and a bunch of new players did not lend itself to developing chemistry quickly - especially with a shortened offseason. Combine that with Jackson's holdout and Maclin's illness, and you get exactly what happened last year - a train wreck. A full offseason without the circus atmosphere should make a huge difference for Jackson and the Eagles this season.
There are also reasons to be skeptical of Jackson this season
Jackson has a history of concussions. This is probably the biggest concern because Jackson has had multiple concussions, including one suffered in a violent collision with Falcons' cornerback Dunta Robinson in 2010 - his second in a 12-month period and severe enough to cause memory loss. With the NFL treating concussions and head injuries with ever-increasing caution, fantasy owners need to recognize that Jackson is one more concussion away from a prolonged absence.
Defenses were able to scheme Jackson out of several games last season. This is a situation worth monitoring during the preseason, but there were several mitigating factors that contributed to this, including Jackson's health, his contract issues, and the loss of offseason activities last year. It also didn't help that Maclin's illness caused him to miss all of training camp, and even after returning, Maclin was not fully healthy for most of the season. The Eagles will have time to devise ways to get Jackson involved regardless of the defense, but until it happens, there is a reason for concern.
The lack of a quality backup quarterback. This might be the biggest concern of all regarding Jackson. Michael Vick has been injury prone, and that is always a concern given his style of play. Many of us have grown to accept that, but there are real issues when the backup is likely to be either Mike Kafka or Trent Edwards.
Jackson does not have any contract issues for the first time in three years
Despite Jackson's off year in 2011, he was still a top-30 wide receiver
A full offseason with Vick and a healthy Maclin should help immensely
Jackson's concussion history cannot be ignored
Despite having a new contract, he has a lot to prove to his coaches and teammates
Although Jackson is capable of huge statistical games, his high average per catch combined with relatively low reception totals lend to a more boom-or-bust performance from week to week
DeSean Jackson had his worst season in 2011 and there were several reasons for it: his health, contract situation, and a shortened offseason. It's possible that the Eagles were doomed from the start last year because of the whole Dream Team label, and that affected the entire team. It's often wise to give a team and/or players a pass for mitigating circumstances, and this is no exception. Following a solid rookie season, Jackson posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and was a top-15 wide receiver in each. He had an down year in 2011, yet he still managed to finish within the top-30 wide receivers. It would be surprising if Jackson doesn't bounce back this year, namely because the circumstances are much better. Jackson may not vault all the way back into the top-15 receivers, but it seems reasonable to expect him to find his way into the Top 20.
Anthony Borbely's Projections for DeSean Jackson
60 receptions 1,075 receiving yards 5 receiving touchdowns 105 rushing yards 1 rushing touchdown