DeSean Jackson and his contract have brought up an interesting point of discussion, how good is DeSean? Where does DeSean stand amongst other NFL receivers. After Larry Fitzgerald’s contract a lot of people got worried about DeSean Jackson and the money he’s demanding but let me be clear, DeSean Jackson does not deserve that type of money. He simply isn’t as good as Larry Fitzgerald, few in league history have been. But who is DeSean comparable to? Where does he stand in the NFL? Looking at where DeSean Jackson stands amongst other receivers in the NFL will ultimately determine how much he will get paid.
When looking at receivers its not all about statistics, a lot of the time good players don’t produce as much because of the offense they’re in, other times players over achieve because of the scheme they’re in. You’ve got to look past the numbers and look at how players are being used, how good their supporting cast is and their skill set. Production matters but it isn’t the only thing. I thought that I would just get that out of the way now.
When looking at receivers it is generally accepted that you look for these things:
- The ability to create separation: This is the most important thing you’re looking for with receivers. If you can’t get separation you’re just not very useful as a receiver. Lateral agility helps create separation, you’re looking for players that can get in and out of their breaks quickly. Short area quickness and burst are key. Long speed is important (but not nearly important as its made out to be), its more important for players in vertical offenses (San Diego for example). The players need to have good fluidity, they need to lose as little speed as possible when changing directions. Route running is key to creating separation as well.
- Route Running: In college you can get by on superior athleticism, in the NFL you need to run precise routes. Corners are better and quicker, if a player is tipping their routes they’re really going to have a tougher time getting open. Also the QB is trusting the receiver to be in the right spot, being a few inches away from the spot the QB thinks you’re going to be can result in an incomplete pass or even in an interception. Precise route running is key. And in addition to running good routes you need to be able to adjust your routes based off the look the defense is giving you, what the safety is doing and how the corner is playing you.
- Beating The Jam: What good is a receiver who can’t beat press coverage? You can’t be eliminated by a big corner.
- Ball skills & Body Control: What good is a receiver who can’t make plays on the ball? Ball skills are what made Randy Moss the most talented receiver to ever play the game. You need to be able to adjust to balls that aren’t perfectly on target. You need to be able to track the ball in the air. You need to be able to find the ball. You need to be able to adjust your body to make the grab.
- Hands: You always want a receiver who is capable of making every single grab. You can’t leave opportunities on the field and that’s exactly what happens when players drop passes. But this isn’t just about drops, you need to be able to make catches away from your frame and make the tough grabs.
- Ability to go over the middle: The best receivers can run all the routes and that includes going over the middle. Some people mistake the ability to go over the middle with size. Wes Welker is the premier receiver over the middle in the NFL IMO. If you’re going to be a premier receiver you can’t not be able to run all the routes.
- Run After The Catch: The ability to navigate through traffic, make people miss, get all the extra yards available and turn short throws into long gains.
- Explosiveness: This is something you definitely look for but it isn’t something that players necessarily have to have. Personally I love my receivers to be able to make plays down the field. Deep speed is a great asset for a player to have.
- Size: Not necessary but its certainly something that helps.
- Run blocking: Probably the least important thing you’re looking for in wideouts but if they have it, great.
What stands out to me when I look at that is how terrible Darius Heyward-Bey is. DHB is pretty much the antithesis of everything I said above. How he went as high as he did is beyond me. The worst receiver in the NFL.
Here is where I’ve got DeSean Jackson ranked amongst other top receivers:
- Andre Johnson– If you built a receiver, they would look like Andre Johnson. They would act like Andre Johnson. Hell, they might as well be Andre Johnson. He can seriously do it all. Everything you read above is what Andre Johnson does well. Of active receivers he is 10th in career receptions despite being 3 years younger than the next youngest on the list. He is 10th amongst active receivers in yards. And he is first all time in yards per game. The only thing about Andre Johnson is that he doesn’t get many touchdown passes but that really doesn’t matter when you’re putting up numbers like he is. In the past three seasons he has put up 4360 yards, 302 receptions and 25 touchdowns. That means per game he is putting up 96 yards a game in the past 3 years. For a receiver, those numbers are unheard of. If you’re looking for someone who had a comparable 3 year stretch (in terms of YPG and catches) you’re pretty much stuck comparing him to Jerry Rice or Marvin Harrison, not bad.
- Larry Fitzgerald– See the description about Andre Johnson? Most of it applies to Fitz as well. If Fitz and AJ continue at the pace they’re going they’re both going to be enshrined in Canton one day. Fitzgerald is a tad bit less explosive and powerful than AJ but he makes up for it with his incredible ball skills and hands. When people look at Fitz’s career up to this point they recognize the crowning jewel of his career to this point is his performance in 2008. Including the playoffs he put up 126 receptions, 1977 yards and 19 touchdowns. Fitz is quite simply one of the greatest talents to ever play the game at WR. In 7 seasons he has 65 touchdown receptions, 613 receptions and 8204 yards. In the history of the NFL, Fitz has more receptions than any other player before their 28th birthday and he is second in yardage. What does that mean? It means that if Fitzgerald played long enough and kept up his level of play he could be within striking distance of Rice’s receptions record.
- Greg Jennings– Greg Jennings is a very good receiver, he isn’t the biggest or most athletic guy but fundamentally he is very good. His skillset is very reminiscent of Marvin Harrison. Obviously he isn’t utilized nearly as much as Marvin was. Greg Jennings is a great route runner, perhaps the best in the NFL. He has great lateral agility and when you combine that with his route running ability he can really separate from corners. He has great hands and ball skills (just look at any of those over the shoulder end zone grabs he has). He can get vertical on defenses with his underrated explosiveness. And after the catch he is simply one of the best in the game.
- Calvin Johnson– Athletically, the only receiver in the history of the game that was as athletic as ‘Megatron’ is probably Randy Moss. But much like Randy Moss there is a big hole in CJ’s game: Route running. His incredible size hurts his short area quickness and ability to get to top speed right away which is why he struggles with running routes in the short area of the field. This one flaw in his game makes him a less complete receiver than Greg Jennings.
- Santonio Holmes– His skillset is comparable to Greg Jennings’ and if he was more consistent I could justify ranking Holmes over Jennings. His skillset is one of the best in the NFL. He has quickness and speed similar to DeSean Jackson. He is stronger and more powerful than other speedy receivers. He runs great routes, he is good after the catch, he works the middle and he is super clutch. He can do it all, he can separate and rack up receptions on short/intermediate routes and he can stretch defenses vertically. Consistency and off the field problems really hold Holmes back. You can do things on the field with Holmes that you can’t do with other players.
- Brandon Marshall– Baby TO. Brandon Marshall is crazy but hey, it’s endearing, right? He didn’t produce like he did in Denver but that doesn’t change the fact that Marshall is one of the best talents at wide receiver in the NFL. Marshall is huge, strong and powerful. He can turn short stuff into long gains. The talent he brings to the table is on par with Larry Fitzgerald brings and what Terrell Owens used to bring. Marshall is simply a dynamic talent. Really the only thing he doesn’t do that well is get vertical. Over the past 4 years he has caught 393 passes for 4724 yards and 26 touchdowns. I don’t care that Roddy White performed better, Marshall was consistently out producing White prior to last year and Marshall was catching passes from Chad Henne playing with a poor supporting cast while Roddy White was catching passes from Matt Ryan while playing with Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez. And don’t even get me started on the coaching staffs.
- Reggie Wayne– Mr. Consistency. The last time Reggie Wayne had less than 1000 yards receiving was in 2004. What can you say about his game? He isn’t as dynamic as he once was but that’s about it. He runs some of the best routes in the game, he doesn’t drop passes and he can make some great catches. He is getting older but he isn’t going anywhere because his game isn’t predicated on athleticism, much like Marvin Harrison his game is built on fundamentals. He’ll be around for awhile.
- Roddy White– Roddy White is remarkably consistent, in each of the past 4 years he has notched at least 83 receptions. That is the name of the game with Roddy White. He is a superb route runner, he can box out smaller corners with his size, he can get in and out of his breaks well, he has great hands, he can run after the catch and he can beat the jam with his strength to knock corners aside or with his surprising quickness. The only thing with White is that he isn’t much of a field stretcher, he isn’t very dynamic as last year only 15 of his receptions were for over 20 yards. But, he led the league in first down catches. Roddy White is a consistent, reliable receiver who moves the chains.
- Dwayne Bowe– Dwayne Bowe always had the talent, at 6’2”, 220 pounds with 4.4 speed he certainly looked the part. But he never really played up to it before last year where he just went off. He improved everything about his game. He caught passes all over the field last year, he can do it on every level. He runs very well after the catch. Bowe can make the spectacular catch with his body control and ball skills. He can be a game breaker and he can be a possession receiver. He is a dynamic talent that has been held back by consistency issues, we’ll see if Todd Haley can develop Bowe like he developed Larry Fitzgerald.
- Hakeem Nicks– When the guys above him start to age Hakeem Nicks is going to be there to replace them. Nicks is one of 4 receivers in NFL history to have a 10 TD season before they turned 23 (Fitz, Moss, Maclin are other 3). What can’t he do? As he becomes more established and plays at a high level with more consistency he’ll move up this list. There are really no holes in his game.
- Jeremy Maclin– Jeremy is the complete package at wide receiver. He is a legitimate game breaker who can beat defenses over the top. He is a reliable underneath target with good hands that has shown great route running ability. He has also shown the ability to make the highlight reel catch (ask the Redskins). He really looks like a guy who as he continues to develop will be able to create separation on underneath routes while being able to stretch defenses vertically. He has shown the ability to take over games at times, he has 3 games in his young career where he has had over 140 receiving yards, the only player in NFL history to do that more before age 23 is Randy Moss.
- DeSean Jackson– DeSean really might not even deserve to be this high. Fundamentally there are so many players that are better than him, his route running is so suspect, he runs lazy routes. He has issues with drops. He is completely useless on short throws and in the redzone. He also struggles with good press corners. And he is completely disinterested in blocking. But his playmaking ability really pushes him up the list. He runs the best 9 route in the game. He is the best deep threat in the game. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands as he is consistently one of the best YAC receivers in the game. And you can use him in so many ways. If you were just judging game breaking ability, DeSean Jackson would be number one.
- Mike Wallace– See DeSean Jackson. Only Wallace is less of a threat with the ball in his hands, isn’t a weapon on reverses and doesn’t return punts. Other than that, they’re very similar.
- Vincent Jackson– I never really understood why people were so obsessed with Vincent Jackson. I think people like him because he is huge. He is a poor man’s Calvin Johnson. He lacks the short area quickness to run great routes and be effective underneath. He is a threat down the field who will go up and attack the ball but as a deep threat he is less effective than DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace. He is a playmaker who can go off at times but he isn’t as fundamentally sound as the best receivers and he isn’t as dynamic as the best playmakers. I think he has hit his ceiling.
- Kenny Britt: Surprised? Don’t be. Off the field Kenny Britt is a grade A moron but on the field he is a grade A receiver. Keep in mind what kind of a situation this guy is in, he is on one of the most run heavy teams in the NFL and has had Kerry Collins, Vince Young and Rusty Smith throwing him the ball. Britt has star tools. On his career he is catching 66% of his targets, is averaging 17.6 yards per catch, 11.7 yards per target and he led the NFL in Yards Per Route Run last year by .4 (which is a BIG lead). He was also averaging a TD every .136 targets. He just needs to commit to the game and refine his route running because right now those are the only things holding him back from becoming a star.
Honorable Mentions: Marques Colston, Miles Austin, Wes Welker, Steve Smith (PHI), Santana Moss
Player To Watch: Dez Bryant – Could make a HUGE jump up this list this season, scary talent.
As a receiver DeSean isn’t worth the money he is likely going to demand. He is limited in what he can do, fundamentally he isn’t very well founded, he has 2 concussions in 2 years and what happens when he starts losing a step? But when you factor in how much he means to this offense, how big of a playmaker he is, how many different ways you can use him and his special teams ability you can say that he is going to get paid, and paid well. He will get paid just as well as Santonio Holmes, Roddy White and Miles Austin. Look for a contract in that neighborhood.