DeSean Jackson Is Exactly What Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers Needed
In 2016, no player saw more targets than Mike Evans. No player saw a higher percentage of his team's targets than Evans. No player, quite frankly, was used like Mike Evans.
It's a perfect match.
If you've watched football over the last decade, you know DeSean Jackson's biggest strength is his ability to stretch the field and make big plays. His combination of getting deep and making a play after catching the ball is second to none.
And the following graph shows just that, as it compares the yards after the catch (YAC) per catch to the number of air yards gained per catch among wideouts who've caught at least 50 balls over the last five seasons.
That red dot is DeSean Jackson. Over the last five seasons, he's averaged 11.51 air yards per catch -- that is, the ball has travelled, on average, 11.51 yards through the air on each catch he's made -- with a 5.91 yards after the catch per catch rate.
Someone with his air yards profile would be expected to have a 3.85 yards after the catch per catch rate, or over two yards fewer than what his actual YAC rate is.
In other words, it's true: DeSean Jackson is a deep-ball beast.
And that's huge for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Quarterback Jameis Winston has a big arm. It just hasn't fully translated to production.
Earlier in the offseason, our own Jim Sannes wrote about the five quarterbacks who threw the ball deep (16 or more yards down the field) most often in 2016. Winston made the list at number three, having thrown the ball that distance on 21.69% of his passes. As a result, a large chunk of Winston's yards came through the air.
But Winston's air yards total this past year was a little too high -- over 66% of his 4,090 passing yards were accumulated through the air, which is disproportionate compared to the number of deep throws he made.
The chart above shows the relationship between the percentage of balls traveling 16 or more yards through the air versus the percentage of yards throughout the season coming via the air. The data points are relevant, higher-volume quarterbacks from the 2016 season.
As you can see from the red dot, Winston's air yards were a semi-outlier -- given the number of throws made 16 or more yards down the field, his percentage of air yards total should've been closer to 58%, not 66%.
There are a couple of reasons for this. One of them is he just wasn't effective with his deep ball throws, as he ranked 23rd in Passing Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) per attempt on 16-plus yard throws last year, which was Ryan Fitzpatrick-esque.
Another potential reason was his reliance on wide receiver Mike Evans on those deep throws.
With longer-distance tosses, there's a tendency to see fewer yards after the catch. That makes sense intuitively, since the ball needs to be perfect in order to allow a receiver to get past a defender. And, oftentimes, the defender is already on a receiver when he catches that deep pass. This is part of the reason why a player like Golden Tate is usually atop the yards after the catch leaderboard each year: he catches shorter passes, which allows more room to run with the ball.
The DeSean Jackson chart that was introduced earlier shows that relationship: the deeper the throw, the fewer the yards after the catch.
Last year, Mike Evans saw 59 targets on passes 15 (not 16) or more yards down the field. That was the most in the NFL. You could've guessed this by what was just talked about, but his yards after the catch suffered: of the 58 players with 50 or more receptions last year, Evans' expected yards after the catch rate was the absolute worst.
The Perfect Match
This doesn't mean that Mike Evans is a bad wide receiver. If anything, it suggests the Buccaneers really did need a pass-catcher to complement Evans and make him more efficient on throws down the field.
They couldn't have found a player who does that better. DeSean Jackson, throughout his career, has exceeded all yards after the catch and deep-ball expectations.
As long as Jackson hasn't lost much speed with his increase in age -- he'll be playing this season as a 30-year-old -- then this is truly a perfect match for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.