Can DeSean Jackson Continue to Be a Big-Play Receiver?

DeSean Jackson has boomed and busted so far through six weeks. Can he continue to make big plays over the long haul?

Coming off a career-best season in 2013, in which he had career-highs of 82 receptions, 1,332 yards, and 9 touchdowns in a dynamic Philadelphia Eagles offense, DeSean Jackson was trending upwards.

Then in the spring, Jackson was shown the door by coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles, and rumors swirled about why the Eagles let their star receiver go after his best season.

Recently, Kelly offered an explanation here. Whether you believe that explanation or not or whether you should like or respect Jackson as a person is not my call. For a great read on Jackson's background, check this out this article from ESPN The Magazine and form your own opinion.

However, what I can provide is insight into how Jackson is performing on the field in 2014 using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics and what to expect from him going forward.

D-Jax Goes Deep

In first-year coach Jay Gruden's offense, Jackson has been playing the role of the "Z" receiver, which is similar to the role occupied by the much taller and equally fast A.J. Green in 2013 when Gruden was the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. This means that Jackson is frequently the receiver who moves all around in the formations, lining up a yard off the line of scrimmage to use his speed to beat press coverage, especially on deep targets.

In 2014, Jackson has done just that. He has 3 touchdowns, all over 60 yards each, including this touchdown in which he beats double coverage while lined up on the left side of the field versus his old team the Eagles. In fact, Jackson has 20 career touchdowns traveling a distance of 50 yards or more since 2008.

In terms of our numberFire Reception Net Expected Points totals, Jackson stacks up pretty well among the 73 wide receivers with 25 or more targets:

PlayerTargetsReception NEPTarget NEPRec NEP/TargetSuccess Rate
Jackson4239.14 (9th)19.44 (21st)0.93 (6th)82.61% (44th)

Jackson's Reception NEP and Reception NEP per target is no doubt aided by the deep ball and touchdowns on the deep ball. However, Reception NEP is a cumulative statistic and Jackson has achieved his ninth-ranked total in spite of a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, which caused him to miss most of his Week 2 game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He's played through the injury and wasn't expected to go versus the Eagles. He did end up playing and torched them for 5 catches and 117 yards receiving, including the touchdown mentioned earlier. He has also achieved his success with backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been wildly inconsistent. Inexplicably, Cousins looked great with Jackson in a game versus the Seattle Seahawks and terrible against the New York Giants the previous game.

The Other Side of the Deep Ball

Jackson's naysayers this season will point to the fact that, when he is not scoring deep touchdowns, he is not performing for your fantasy team. This is somewhat of a true statement, as evident in the game logs thus far this season:

2014 SeasonTOTAL2347920.8342

There are a few things to note from the game logs.

First, Jackson had the type of game in Week 1 versus the Houston Texans, featuring many wide receiver screens and lots of yards after the catch while quarterback Robert Griffin III tried to evade the pass-rush of super-freak J.J. Watt. Those are the type of games that fantasy owners would hope would be Jackson's floor in the weeks he doesn't hit pay dirt.

Conversely, Jackson did not perform well against the Giants, a week in which Cousins turned the ball over a Ferris Bueller-esque "Five Times," which makes it hard to get into an offensive rhythm as a wide receiver.

What's in Store the Rest of the Season?

While Jackson has one of the highest weekly ceilings of any receiver in the league, he also has a very low floor, especially with questionable quarterbacking.

Still, our numberFire projections peg Jackson as the 14th-ranked wide receiver the rest of the season and expect him to catch another 44 balls for 717 yards and 5 touchdowns. With tight end Jordan Reed healthy again and opening up the middle of the field, Jackson should see a little less safety help, which should open things up for him even more, as evident in the recent game against the Arizona Cardinals. Robert Griffin III has also started to resume individual drills and may play again in Week 8 versus the Dallas Cowboys.

All signs point to Jackson continuing to use his speed to exploit opposing defenses and burn them deep more weeks than not, especially with some of the team's offensive weapons returning. The hope for fantasy football owners who start Jackson is that not only does he catch the deep ball, but that his targets and work in the intermediate and screen game to create a floor similar to his Week 1 performance at Houston. If that happens, you can start Jackson in your fantasy leagues and daily leagues without hesitation.