Spotlight: DeSean Jackson

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 9th

Jason Wood's thoughts

Chris Johnson is the most electrifying player in the NFL. But sometimes it's not bad to be #2...and to my mind DeSean Jackson is the 2nd most electrifying guy we get to watch on Sundays. Don't believe me?

Week 1 - 85-yard punt return TD vs. Carolina
Week 2 - 71-yard TD catch vs. New Orleans
Week 3 - 64-yard TD catch vs. Kansas City
Week 7 - 67-yard rushing TD vs. Washington
Week 7 - 57-yard TD catch vs. Washington
Week 8 - 54-yard TD catch vs. New York
Week 14 - 72-yard punt return TD vs. New York
Week 14 - 60-yard TD catch vs. New York

Last year, DeSean Jackson became the 3rd player in NFL history with 8 TDs of 50+ yards in a single season [Trivia Fact: Crazylegs Hirsch and Devin Hester are the others]. He also became the first player in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl at two positions in the same year. All that big play greatness was wrapped up in 63 receptions for 1,167 yards and 9 TDs, good enough for a 4th place finish among fantasy wide receivers. Jackson's ADP is currently WR9, 25th overall...which means that fantasy owners still think of him as a solid WR1, but aren't betting on his matching or exceeding last year's performance.

Debunking the Myth of the 50-Yard TDs
You can't go three mouse clicks on the internet without running into some editorial arguing that DeSean Jackson is going to fall off a cliff this year because he "relied on the big play." Yes, it's true, he scored eight 50-yard TDs last year and history suggests that those kinds of big scores are unlikely to be repeated. But that's lazy analysis if you stop there. I was all set to run some analysis of WRs throughout NFL history who also had an inordinate number of big plays, to see what kind of seasons they had the following year. But lucky for me, fellow staff member, and good friend Chase Stuart penned a similar article as part of his Player Points series. I commend you to read the entire write up, but for the sake of brevity here is his conclusion:

Overall, the group [receivers with 6 or more 40-yard catches in a season] dropped from 6.9 40+ yard catches per 16 games in Year N to 4.2 40+ yard catches per 16 games the following season. Looking at just young players like Jackson doesn't provide more inspiration. On the other hand, check out the fantasy points per game production of the young player. While the 25-and-under crowd had 2.5 fewer big receptions per 16 games, they managed to do a pretty good job of holding their fantasy value. It would be reasonable to conclude, especially if you're a Jackson fan, that once defenses focus on stopping him deep, he'll increase his number of short receptions. If Jackson drops from ten 40+ yard catches in '09 to seven in 2009, he might make up for that with ten shorter catches that he converted because defenses respected his deep speed. Jackson's unlikely to score a bunch of really long touchdowns again in 2010, and that's why he probably shouldn't be a top-five wide receiver in your projections. But the most important factors -- Jackson's an elite athlete, in a high-octane offense, who is constantly improving as an NFL receiver -- haven't changed.

We have to remember that Jackson is only 23 years old, and is still learning his craft. If every other aspect of his game was to remain constant, I could understand worrying about the impact of fewer big plays. But at his age, you would think he can improve in other ways:

  • At 5'10", 175 pounds, Jackson can do a better job getting off the line
  • Jackson's catch rate (63 recs versus 118 targets) of 53% has plenty of room for improvement
  • He can receive more targets (Jackson missed 1.5 games last year with a concussion and is still rounding into the role of WR1)
  • Jackson can do better in the red zone (He only caught 4 of 11 targets last year and scored only twice inside the 20)

To think Jackson won't get better, that his skills and technique have peaked two years into his career is illogical.

Other Considerations

Kevin Kolb - The Eagles have handed over the QB reins to Kevin Kolb, and that bears risk. Make no mistake, Andy Reid and the personnel department didn't trade their franchise QB to a division rival without a belief that Kevin Kolb will be an effective QB immediately. We can't be sure Kolb is the real deal until he's proven it over a full 16-game season, but all of the word of mouth from the Eagles camp and from industry pundits would suggest Kolb is ready to step right into the huddle. He's a different kind of quarterback than McNabb. Kolb is a good athlete, but his speed and strength don't jump off the charts. The Eagles think he'll be more accurate and consistent, and therefore we can expect to see a more traditional version of the West Coast offense in 2010. That should mean more targets for the top receivers, and hopefully more catchable balls (which will help the catch %). Another thing to remember is that Kolb started two games last year (against New Orleans and Kansas City), and Jackson had 100+ yards and a TD in each game.

Jeremy Maclin - Maclin was impressive as a rookie, particularly because his route-running stood out yet was considered the area he most needed to improve coming from Missouri (a more nebulous spread attack). Maclin worked his way into the offense progressively, and saw his targets per game jump from 4.3 in September to almost 9 targets per game at the end of the season. Maclin doesn't have the otherworldly speed of Jackson, but he's got better hands (61% catch rate) and is stronger at the point of attack. Jackson isn't going to make his living banging around in the middle and grabbing a crossing route in between a linebacker and a safety. Maclin can do exactly that, yet can also beat DBs deep. The point being, Maclin's role should and WILL increase this year, and those touches have to come from somewhere.

Other Offensive Weapons - Brent Celek emerged as a top 5 TE last year, Jason Avant is one of the best slot receivers in the NFC and could start for many teams, and then there's LeSean "Shady" McCoy who is absolutely going to be involved in the passing game as a receiver out of the backfield. The Eagles have one of the youngest set of skill players in the NFL, and if Kolb executes properly, he won't play favorites but will throw to the open man.


  • Jackson is explosive, and had two of his best receiving games when Kevin Kolb was under center last year
  • Jackson was a Top 5 fantasy WR in only his second year, and at 23 years old is still improving
  • Jackson is more than a deep threat, he averaged more than 6 yards after the catch last season


  • Jackson is very small (175 pounds) and missed times with a concussion last year; his durability will always be a risk
  • The Eagles offense is chock full of talented young players who all want, and deserve, the ball
  • In spite of last year's rapport with Kevin Kolb, there's always the risk the passing offense will take a step back with a new starter under center

Final thoughts

DeSean Jackson won't have eight 50-yard touchdowns this year. Happy now? But he WILL have big plays, and he will be one of Kevin Kolb's favorite targets. He's also going to continue to improve other aspects of his game. He could see more targets. He could improve his catch rate. He can do even more in the open field with the ball in his hands. The point being, Jackson can reprise his Top 10 fantasy status this year, it's just likely to be done a bit differently. I would expect him to have more catches this year, but figure his yards per reception and TDs probably regress a bit. He's still a decent WR1 in my estimation, although I think the difference between him and Jeremy Maclin at year end is going to be a lot less pronounced than most realize.

Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

DoubleG said:

Entering his 3rd year (and no, I don't believe in the "3rd year breakout" theory for WRs) - I think he still improving. Even so, I don't see a huge change in total numbers from last seas, although I do see his receptions going up a tick, I also see his yards per reception dropping a little. I think Kolb being under center doesn't actually hurt Jackson much - if anything Kolb's accuracy may actually help DJax a little.

MrTwo94 said:

I'm on record saying something like there's at least a 1/3 chance that Maclin becomes Philly's WR1, so I'm obviously not as high on DeSean as most people here. I forget all the reasons I've stated that he's likely to come back to earth, but a few of them were that he set a record for long TD's last year. He's a talented guy and all, but I doubt he ties or breaks last year's record. A lot of people think this will be offset by getting more red zone targets. Not sure where that idea is coming from. I expect less long TD's and no extra red zone TD's. Maclin and Celek are much better red zone targets, so if anything they are in line for those extra TD's, not DeSean. Second point of concern would be his 18.5 ypc. Obviously, that's awesome. How is that a concern? People expect that to repeat. Chances of that happening are very poor. People also like to project at least 100 yards rushing and a TD for him. He's done it two years in a row, but last year I think it took a 67 yard TD or something like that. With only about 10 rushes, it'd be easy for that not to happen again. In fact, it is very unlikely. Fantasy football is a game of percentages. I think DeSean has, at most, a 10% chance of living up to his ADP. He COULD run for another long TD (or two!), he COULD set the record for long TD's again, and he COULD average 19 ypc. I just doubt it.

70 rec x 15.5 ypr = 1085 yds 5 TD, 10 carries x 6 ypc = 60 yds 0 TD

Just draft Maclin. He's much cheaper and with at least as much upside. Didn't he hold out last year (or get injured in camp), come from a spread offense, start the season as a backup, and miss one game + a few quarters due to injury?

Go deep said:

The best argument his naysayers have is he wont be able to score as many long TD's as he did last year. That might be true, but the same could be said about Chris Johnson. Desean is the most explosive WR in the league. The Eagles will do anything to get the ball in his hands, so i fully expect his touches to go up, so he wont need to score as many long TD's as he did last year to be a top 5 WR. All my leagues score for return yardage, so he is likely my #1 WR.

rzrback77 said:

The major conflict with DeSean Jackson is that his current ADP of WR 9 and 24 overall is so much higher than a year ago that some are having difficulty swallowing it. Jackson's targets remained similar between 08 and 09, in fact they decreased by three, but he missed a game in 09. He just did so much more with this opportunities in 09. He caught a slightly higher percentage of his targets and with Kolb, I anticipate the catch percentage rising more. His ypc dramatically increased from 14.7 to 18.5. I agree with others that have posted his extremely long plays will likely decrease as that part of his game was extraordinary last year. However, if Kolb is more accurate than McNabb, Jackson should consistently get higher yards after the catch to counter the anticipated decrease in huge gains.

I expect that Jackson will get more targets as well. Westbrook is gone and I think some of the swing and outlet short routes could go to Jackson. McCoy will get his share, but not to the extent that Westbrook was previously targeted. I forecast more targets, more catches, slightly less TDs and less yards per catch, but still a very nice season for Jackson.

DeSean Jackson projections

Jason Wood681030700
Message board consensus731142700