Why Vincent Jackson Is Better Than You Think

There's no hiding that Jackson has elite talent, but is his streakiness cause for the dreaded overrated label?

Over the past few seasons, Vincent Jackson has been a bit of an enigma at the receiver position. Able to post big games and dreadful ones all the same, the now-31-year-old Jackson doesn't seem able to add "consistency" to his resume at this point in his career. But does that mean that he's been secretly (or overtly, depending on who you ask) overrated for the past few seasons?

Let's have a look inside the numbers.

Last season, his second year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jackson posted 1,224 receiving yards (his second-best season) to go along with 7 touchdowns and a career-high 78 receptions. That, on the surface, seems like a great year for Tampa's top option at receiver, but he racked up the production in such a way that there's reasonable doubt about his "ratedness."

He had at least nine catches in three games. He had three or fewer catches in seven games.

He had at least 100 yards in four games (and 138 yards in three games), but fewer than 40 yards in five games.

He scored touchdowns in five games, three of which were when he had at least nine catches, meaning that most of his production came in very, very concentrated doses.

But, overall, Jackson concludes seasons with some pretty telling (and rarely matched) numbers. End-of-season tallies can sometimes be little more than glamor stats compiled irrelevantly, but this isn't exactly the case for Jackson's career.

Jackson's Past

Jackson's emergence came during his tenure with the San Diego Chargers, alongside Philip Rivers and inside a talented overall offense. He did, however, prove that he wasn't just a product of the Chargers offense, and improved some numbers while in Tampa Bay in 2012 and 2013.

Here's a look at some of Jackson's Net Expected Points (NEP) numbers. NEP is numberFire's way of quantifying a player's impact on his team and indicates how many points a player adds (or subtracts) to his team's expected total through on-field play. It also works to weed out garbage production, which doesn't really help teams put points on the board or move the chains.

SeasonRec.Rec. NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec. NEP/TargetCatch Rate

Jackson experienced career highs in Reception NEP over the past two years when he was able to be the team's undisputed offensive option through the air. As a result, his targets, Target NEP, Reception NEP Per target, and catch rate declined quite significantly, but this is part of the process when experiencing a jump of 30 or more targets per season.

Still, Jackson's Reception NEP tallies were consistently respectable ever since 2008, and this level of consistency is surprisingly hard to maintain.

How Jackson Is Actually Consistent

Last season, 30 players recorded a Reception NEP of at least 80.00, a mark Jackson has surpassed quite easily every season since 2008, except during his 2010 season with limited playing time. With Jackson living above or near the 100.00 mark, you may think there plenty of other receivers who were able to post at least a Reception NEP of 80.00 for the past three seasons.

But there aren't that many.

Calvin Johnson142.07162.56143.56149.40
Brandon Marshall97.03140.39122.82120.08
Vincent Jackson98.36133.81115.34115.84
Wes Welker146.44115.4081.03114.29
AJ Green97.94109.84127.49111.76
Jimmy Graham108.8790.68119.71106.42
Marques Colston106.15114.2991.56104.00
Dez Bryant92.39110.60107.91103.63
Tony Gonzalez82.5697.3287.8989.26

That's the consistency list in its entirety. It's just nine players. And if you were to consider only the people who posted a Reception NEP of at least 98.36 (Jackson's lowest of the three years), the list would thin out to one guy: Calvin Johnson.

And it's not like the benchmark (80.00) was chosen to be purposefully exclusive. In 2013, 30 receivers hit this mark. In 2012, 31 did. And in 2011, 27 did. This means that, basically, only nine receivers were able to provide top-30 receiver production consistently over the past three seasons. Among the nine, Jackson ranks third - not by much, but still third.

Furthermore, you might be thinking that there are some up-and-coming receivers who will likely be added to this list once the 2014 season concludes. After all, seven other players posted a Reception NEP of at least 80.00 in 2012 and 2013, leaving them capable of joining the updated list for next year.

The youngsters on that list include Demaryius Thomas and T.Y. Hilton. That's it. The other five on the list are Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Eric Decker, Larry Fitzgerald, and, this is no joke, Brian Hartline.

Be it from injury, sub-par team play, or any number of variables, only a select few can consistently provide this amount of help to his team each year. And while studs like Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald struggle through one or all of those production-prohibiting variables, Jackson has produced, which isn't a slam on the other guys but rather a testament to Jackson.

Overcoming Bad Quarterback Play

There's no denying that the Buccaneers didn't have stellar quarterback play last year, but Jackson produced nonetheless. Tampa Bay, as a team, ranked 27th in the league in Adjusted Passing NEP, recording a mark of -41.75. This means that the Bucs lost close to 42 points through the air that an average team would have scored.

Only three players in last year's top 15 in Reception NEP played on an offense with a negative Adjusted Passing NEP score. Considering that roughly 10 or 12 teams per year finish on the wrong side of zero in Adjusted Passing NEP, it stands to reason that only a few players can produce top-15 receiving numbers while playing in an offense devoid of efficiency.

Here's the full list of top-15 receivers in the five years since 2009 whose team posted a negative Adjusted Passing NEP score.

PlayerSeasonRec NEPRankTeam Adj. PNEPRank
Josh Gordon2013138.642-29.9223
Vincent Jackson2013115.3411-41.7527
Pierre Garcon2013109.6214-31.9326
Brandon Marshall2012140.392-17.0925
A.J. Green2012109.8411-1.7623
Larry Fitzgerald2011121.245-23.1522
Steve Johnson2010108.708-21.7726
Larry Fitzgerald2010100.4410-140.1332

Yes, that includes 2009, but it just happened to be that no player overcame bad quarterback play to this extent. Jackson didn't post the highest Reception NEP or rank the highest from this list, but he did have the second-worst quarterback play of the eight players who qualified. A.J. Green barely qualified, as the Bengals were slightly worse than expected. Even still, only 10.67% of the top 15 receivers came from worse-than-expected passing offenses.

This doesn't mean that Jackson's 2013 was one for the record books, but it's impressive to see how few players could post those types of numbers in such a situation.

Properly Rated (And Maybe a Bit Underrated)

Even though Jackson has plenty of down games in his career, he's able to generate worthwhile production for his teams no matter how good or how bad they are.

In 2012, the Bucs finished with an Adjusted Passing NEP of 20.16, which was just 20th in the league. This corresponds to Jackson's best season ever in terms of Reception NEP, suggesting that he could produce top 10 numbers with more adequate quarterback production at this point in his career even though he's 31 years old.

Despite the erratic weekly production, few other receivers have been able to produce quite like Jackson has over the past few seasons. You don't have to love him as a receiver, but it's hard to deny that he's been one of the best receivers over the past half decade.