DeSean Jackson: Mediocre Receiver with Low Catch Rate or Big Play Receiver?

DeSean Jackson: Mediocre Receiver with Low Catch Rate or Big Play Receiver?

NFL

DeSean Jackson: Mediocre Receiver with Low Catch Rate or Big Play Receiver?

Bill Barnwell of Grantland thinks that DeSean Jackson is a bad bet for the Eagles, or whatever team signs him after the season, because, as Bill says, “DeSean Jackson needs to catch the damn ball more.”

He raises two main points about Jackson. The first is his low catch rate (51.8% of all passes targeted at him for his career) which ranks him 47th out of 55 receivers with 200 targets or more since 2008. The second is his drops, which is somewhat related to his catch rate, as changing those drops to catches would raise his rate. Football Outsiders estimated 11 drops for Jackson in 2010, and 6 the year before.

Football Outsiders had Jackson as the 44th best wide receiver by DVOA in 2010, down from 23rd in 2009. Barnwell closes with:

Under Andy Reid, the Eagles have been built around an efficient, reliable passing offense and a financial system designed to give the organization cost certainty by signing players to contracts below their market value. That’s entirely at odds with Jackson’s skill set and current station, which makes it hard to reconcile how Jackson fits in with Philadelphia after this season.

There are two ways to look at DeSean Jackson. One is the above — he provides flash and big plays, but it is offset by his inefficiency in making catches, and when it washes out, he’s an average receiver (in 2010) and above average but not in the top 20 in 2009. A second way to look at it is that he plays a role in an offense, in fact a damn important role in why the Eagles have an efficient, reliable passing offense, and his big plays are very important.

I mean, the poor Eagles offense, burdened with the inefficient Jackson. Just imagine what they would be without him, since they somehow managed to score more points in each season he has played than any other in franchise history (and more points per game than every team going back to the halcyon days of Steve Van Buren in the late 40’s).

It’s interesting that the team has a similar overall yards per completion in the 3 years with Jackson as the 3 years before (12.11 to 12.10) but a higher completion percentage (60.8% to 58.0%) and yards per attempt (7.36 to 7.02) and more points (26.75 vs. 21.75 per game). Maybe they would be better without his 51.8% completion rate pulling that down, or maybe, just maybe, he’s driving the efficiency of the rest of the passing game, and plugging some guy that catches 60% of the balls thrown his way and making fewer big plays would actually cause the rest of the offense to be less efficient.

Some guys with high yards per catch figures are the beneficiaries of power running games that leave single coverage against run fronts. This would be Ashley Lelie, playing for Denver with Mike Shanahan, who a link in that article calls the most similar season to Jackson last year.

Other guys with high yards per catch dictate the coverage, and that’s Jackson. LeSean McCoy by himself isn’t scaring anyone. He’s a nice solid player, but not a star. His productivity in the screen game is a function of the how the safeties and linebackers have to drop to cover for DeSean’s big plays and Vick’s arm. I think this is a reversal of how the Eagles played before Jackson, when Brian Westbrook, a much more dynamic weapon than McCoy, drove the offense from the other direction.

I agree with Barnwell that DVOA does tend to undervalue big plays, and thus is undervaluing Jackson. Big plays are important with football, because they eliminate the need to be efficient. No offense is 100% efficient. A 60 yard strike is a lot of first downs, and false starts, and tackles behind the line avoided. When I look at the 1,000 yard receivers over the last five years, the 15 lowest in yards per reception — and thus with high reception totals — played for teams that won 7.7 games, even with the presence of 3 Wes Welker years including the 16-0 season. The 15 highest yards per reception averaged 8.9 wins, despite the presence of Calvin Johnson on 0-16 Detroit.

All this is not to say that Philadelphia must re-sign him on his terms. Maybe he’s asking for Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson money. He’s not that, and the drops and efficiency come into play there. The Eagles could view him as a risk, despite his obvious explosive ability, because of his size and the concussion issues last year. He’s not the biggest guy and you could question how he will hold up, particularly because part of his value is as a punt returner, which also increases his injury risk.

Still, I don’t think he’s anywhere close to the 44th best receiver, and I don’t think that accounts for his impact on the offense. I would put him in the 10-15 range given all the factors from catch rate to big plays to how he dictates coverage for teammates. Let’s not act like Andy Reid grows excellent receivers on trees — I remember plenty of picks on guys like Fred Mitchell and Todd Pinkston and Reggie Brown that make me question whether Andy Reid can just plug someone in and let Jackson go.

[photo via Getty]

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