Vincent Jackson is an outstanding receiver with all the tools necessary to dominate and put up excellent fantasy statistics. After seven seasons in San Diego, Jackson signed a lucrative five-year, $55 million deal with $26 million guaranteed to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He joins a team with a good, young quarterback in Josh Freeman - who is laser focused on impressing a new coaching staff and proving that last year's poor showing was a fluke. Jackson immediately steps into the lineup as the centerpiece of rookie head coach Greg Schiano's passing attack and will be complemented by wide receiver Mike Williams, who has flashed WR1 ability at times in his first two seasons.
While Jackson was a San Diego Charger he put up some very good fantasy numbers including two seasons in which he finished as the 10th-best fantasy receiver. He began his professional career in 2005 as a promising but raw prospect from Northern Colorado. He had an exceptional mix of size (6'5" and 241 pounds) and speed (ran a 4.46 at the combine). However, it took three years to really hone his craft at an NFL level. It was the 2008 season in which Jackson really began to emerge as a legitimate fantasy weapon. He only caught 59 passes that year, but he made the most of every catch, finishing with 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns - ranking 12th among fantasy receivers that season.
It appeared at that point that Jackson had elite potential, but he never truly elevated his game beyond his 2008 accomplishments. He has enjoyed three 1000-yard seasons in the last four years but has yet to make the leap into the very best at his position. In PPR leagues, Jackson's value has been hurt by a low reception tally (career high 68 receptions in 2009), but he offsets the low catch total by averaging 17.5 yards per reception for his career and has never had a season below 15.2 yards per catch.
Jackson should be a true difference-maker on the football field. His ability to stretch the defense and elevate to haul in passes is among the very best in all the NFL. He has an elite blend of size, speed, athleticism, and hand strength with the added plus of being in the prime of his professional career.
So we all agree that Jackson is talented. What can we expect with the move to Tampa Bay?
Run Focused Offensive Philosophy
New head coach Greg Schiano is a defensive minded coach, and his staff utilized a run-heavy offensive philosophy in their 12 years at Rutgers University. Schiano was also a defensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes and spent three years on the Chicago Bears staff from 1996 to 1998. He has always favored a balanced, conservative-minded attack so you can expect offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to make use of both incumbent running back LeGarrette Blount and explosive rookie Doug Martin - who many believe can be a workhorse back immediately. While it's tempting to discount Jackson's potential because of a potentially run-heavy attack, remember that the Chargers were rarely near the top of the league standings in pass attempts, and the Bucs are in heavy rebuilding mode so the defensive unit is not going to be able to stop many teams in 2012 - which will require more passing than the coaches may otherwise prefer.
Vincent Jackson benefited from playing with one of the NFL's most accurate, efficient quarterbacks in Philip Rivers, and there's always a question of how a free agent receiver is going to handle the transition to a new quarterback. Rivers threw for at least 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in each of the last four years - significantly better than what we've seen of Bucs starter Josh Freeman. Freeman has been up and down through his first three NFL seasons. Is he the quarterback that threw 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 2010 or the one who threw a meager 16 scores and a disappointing 22 interceptions in 2011? Or is his baseline somewhere in between? Time will tell, but this offseason it's clear Freeman has made a real commitment to improve his conditioning and strength as well as his ability to command the huddle as a more vocal leader.
Determining the Distribution of Targets
The Buccaneers are completely retooling the makeup of this roster, and it's clear Jackson will be given plenty of opportunities. The Bucs traded tight end Kellen Winslow to the Seahawks, which means Josh Freeman will be without his most targeted option of the last few years. With aging veteran Dallas Clark and unproven Luke Stocker manning the tight end spots, the Bucs appear set to run a more traditional offensive attack that relies on getting the starting receivers singled up in intermediate and deep routes. third-year receiver Mike Williams has been inconsistent, but he has the tools to be a star and should keep defensive coordinators from consistently doubling Jackson. At tailback, expect rookie Doug Martin to catch a ton of passes given his natural ability as a receiver, but his production will not be at the expense of the Bucs top two wide outs. The Bucs don't need to throw 550-600 times in order for Jackson to get his fair share.
Changing Teams Can Cause Production to Go Either Direction
A study from 2008 took a look at 36 prominent fantasy receivers that changed teams from 2005 to 2007. Of those 36 players, 10 improved their statistics significantly, eight stayed approximately the same level, and 18 saw their production fall. With new offensive systems, quarterbacks and philosophies there are no guarantees a player immediately steps in and has the same output he did in his former situation.
Jackson has an elite blend of size, speed, strength and athleticism
He's in the prime of his NFL career
The Kellen Winslow trade assures Jackson will be Josh Freeman's top target
Greg Schiano and Mike Sullivan are likely to incorporate a run-heavy offensive philosophy
Jackson has never caught more than 68 passes in a season despite playing with Philip Rivers
Jackson has historically generated very little yardage after the catch, an oddity given his size and impressive career YPR
There is no question that Vincent Jackson will make the Buccaneers offense much more explosive going forward. He is in the prime of his career, can stretch a defense and has been a consistent touchdown producer. The question is whether his production will elevate, stay the same or decline with the move to Tampa Bay. Changing teams raises the risk in projecting Jackson's output, but there are plenty of reasons to think he can match, if not exceed what we've seen of him thus far. Jackson should comfortably be drafted as a WR2 in any league format, and he has top-five potential in non-PPR leagues if things turn out perfectly.
Chris Smith's Projections for Vincent Jackson
62 receptions 1,066 receiving yards 8 touchdowns