Will Vincent Jackson's Touchdown Potential Return in 2015?
After seeing how productive last year's wide receiver class was, it's easy to become enamored with the shiny new toys the NFL has at the wide receiver position.
Especially for fantasy football owners, it's easy to become captivated with words like "upside" and "potential," particularly as we enter the doldrums of summer as every news blurb has players looking like future Hall-of-Famers at their positions.
One city going through this right now is Tampa Bay, as fans and beat reporters watch first overall pick Jameis Winston throwing deep passes in stride to last year's rookie phenom Mike Evans during OTA's.
While the duo may be seen as the future of the franchise, let's not move past the fact that Vincent Jackson was still the team's most targeted weapon last year. While Evans is undoubtedly an incredible talent (and will be for the foreseeable future in the NFL), let's not be quick to throw out the aging veteran for his shiny new replacement quite yet.
Jackson is coming off the heels of his worst performance dating back to his early San Diego days as he struggled finding the end zone last year, scoring only twice. After watching Jackson this offseason routinely being drafted in fantasy circles after less promising sophomore and rookies, I'm not ready to throw in the towel on Jackson quite yet and you shouldn't either.
The path for redemption for Vincent Jackson to return to his top-playing form -- even as he enters his age 32 season -- has actually been made easier this offseason by moves made by the Tampa Bay front office. Adding Florida State's Jameis Winston via the draft and hiring new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter are moves that will help both Evans and Jackson, giving me reason for optimism with Jackson.
After recording his lowest touchdown total since his rookie year, is there reason to believe Vincent Jackson can restore his touchdown potential and return to the mid-range WR2 tier?
Yes. Yes there is.
Last year Jackson and Evans had the misfortune of playing with one of the worst passing offenses in the league, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP quantifies a player's contribution to his team's scoring output based on how that player performs versus what is expected of him. These numbers can provide a sense of efficiency of just how well a player is performing against his peers.
The Tampa Bay passing attack ranked 31st in schedule-adjusted Passing NEP last year, a major red flag that needed to be addressed this offseason.
Passing woes aside, Vincent Jackson didn't do his quarterbacks any favors. Jackson was the 10th-most targeted wide receiver in the league last year, accumulating 142 looks between quarterbacks Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. However, out of the 40 wide receivers that had at least 100 targets last year, Jackson ranked 36th in Target NEP of the group.
Faring poorly in this Target NEP metric indicates that 35 of the 40 players with 100 or more targets would've been expected to perform better if put in that same situation given down and distance that Jackson was in. That can be a result of quarterback play, but it could also be a result of Jackson's inability to haul in catches.
Jackson also didn't help his case by posting one of the worst catch rates of the group ranking 39th out of the 40. While this is worth noting, I'd be remiss to state that this was more likely a byproduct of his team's quarterbacks than a reflection of his own skills. Jackson was credited with only four drops last year or 2.8% of passes thrown his way -- the same number of drops Evans had on 19 fewer targets.
Mike Evans however, performed much better from an efficiency standpoint, ranking 16th in Target NEP among the same subset with his 123 targets. Dwarfing Jackson's 2.74 Target NEP compared to his 49.78, Evans also managed to outperform the elder statesman outscoring him with 12 receiving touchdowns compared to Jackson's 2. The fact that Evans performed well in Target NEP makes the poor quarterbacking excuse less viable in Jackson's case.
While it's easy to poke holes in Jackson's 2014 game with his large discrepancy between targets (142) and touchdowns (2), what can we find when we look beyond the surface of just those numbers?
Omitting Jackson's 2010 season, when he played only five games, we can see that prior to 2014 when Jackson has surpassed 100 targets, he has fared very well.
|Year||Team||Receptions||Reception NEP||Targets||Target NEP||Receiving Touchdowns||PPR Fantasy Finish|
Outside of 2014, when Vincent Jackson had only two touchdowns, Jackson has been a perennial top-20 wide receiver in PPR formats. Had Jackson met his 100-plus-target career average of eight receiving touchdowns last year, he'd have easily slid inside the top-20 again.
Our own Graham Barfield observed that this was the first time a player has seen at least 140 targets with only scoring twice in over a decade.
So what caused this seismic dropoff in production? And is this the start of a trend or merely an outlier in Jackson's career?
Well, opportunity certainly was not a factor.
VJax had 25.9% of the team's red zone targets -- 14 targets compared to Evans' 15 -- showing that both 6' 5" wideouts were getting equal looks their way in a shortened field. Evans was able to capitalize on 6 of those 15 targets for scores, while Jackson scored twice from both 3-yards and 5-yards out.
The other 12 targets? Three interceptions by McCown, eight incompletions between Glennon (5), McCown (2), and another on a goofy lateral pass by running back Bobby Rainey (1), and finally a 10-yard pick up from the 18-yard line that resulted in a Mike Evans touchdown on the next play.
After reviewing each of those plays, none of them were really found to be indicative of any type of flaw or regression in Jackson's red zone presence or style of play, and I feel pretty comfortable chalking up 2014 as a statistical anomaly. Changing the parameters of Barfield's search to go back to 1960, Jackson's 2014 season was only the fifth recorded instance of at least 140 targets and two or fewer touchdowns ever in the NFL. If presented with another 100-plus targets in 2015, the odds fare pretty heavily that Jackson will more than likely revert back to the mean of his touchdown totals.
New Offensive System
New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will bring his vertical offense to Tampa Bay in 2015, which should bode well for the Buccaneers. There's also been talk of implementing a no-huddle offense, depending on how quickly the new rookie quarterback can pick up the nuances of Koetter's offense.
Jameis Winston has been praised as having one of the stronger arms in this class, which translates well into what Koetter and his two 6' 5" wideouts excel in.
Last year Mike Evans tied the league lead in Average Depth of Target among receivers with 100-plus targets at 16.3 yards with perennial All-Pro Calvin Johnson. Know where Vincent Jackson fell on that list? Second place. Just a yard behind the pair at with an aDOT of 15.3 yards. Winston should be able to come right in firing to his twin towers on the outside.
Koetter's system will most likely slide Evans to the X-receiver role, but what can we expect from Jackson as the Z-receiver or flanker? Furthermore, how has that position performed in Koetter's offenses over the past few years?
After spending the last three years in Atlanta with Roddy White -- who was also entering his age-32 season at the time of Koetter's arrival -- Vincent Jackson should be feeling rather positive.
On a per-game basis, Roddy had PPR fantasy finishes of WR11 in 2012, WR35 in 2013, and WR17 in 2014. It's worth noting Roddy played only 13 games in 2013 with many of them at less than 100%. White also saw a respective 142, 97, and 125 targets those seasons, so Jackson should see continue to see plenty of looks.
While it'd be naive to expect Winston to come in and play at a Matt Ryan-level of performance during his rookie season, it's worth pointing out that Winston has experience in the pro-style offense run by Jimbo Fisher. Winston may not set the world on fire as a rookie, but he comes in with a winning resume.
Winston Adds a Winning Factor
Moving beyond the failed Josh McCown and Mike Glennon attempt, Tampa Bay's future now lies with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
While the outlook isn't necessarily favorable for Winston in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers had no choice but to try and find their new franchise quarterback with the first overall pick.
Going from the 31st ranked Adjusted Passing NEP, the Buccaneers had to find themselves a new signal-caller and Winston will enter the season atop the depth chart.
After a tumultuous end to his collegiate career, there have been mixed reviews of what to expect from Winston after having a sublime red-shirt freshman year in 2013 and a somewhat disappointing season in 2014.
In 2013 back when his offense actually had capable weapons -- ahem Kelvin Benjamin -- Winston led the Seminoles to 58 touchdowns on 73 red zone attempts, a staggering 79.5%. That number dipped substantially in 2014 when Winston was forced to rely on 5' 11" Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary with his short 29 1/2" arm length radius, as the Seminoles scored touchdowns only 59.3% of the time.
Winston now gets an opportunity to search for two giant 6' 5" wide receivers working on the outside and another big 6' 5" Austin Seferian-Jenkins working the middle.
This offense will likely be playing from behind in games due to a porous defense after the Buccaneers ranked 31st in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP last year. If Winston can produce in a somewhat mediocre efficiency, Vincent Jackson and company will have both opportunities and a competent quarterback to capitalize as they try to throw their way back into games late.
While the offensive line still needs some serious revamping, there's reason to believe Jackson can improve on his 2014 season.
Recency bias from last year still focuses on Jackson's WR33 finish and is something that you can capitalize on this offseason. Currently being drafted as the WR30 according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com and WR31 in MyFantastyLeague.com's "MFL10's," Jackson has a great opportunity to outperform his current ADP, providing you value with a WR2 at a WR3 price tag.
Evans will naturally slide over to the WR1 role in year two of his NFL career, but it's important to note that the Buccaneers' front office is still paying Jackson's full $12.2 million cap number in 2015. Shelling out that kind of dough in the fourth of his five-year deal indicates they still plan on featuring Jackson as a major role player on this offense.
Jackson may not be a sexy pick compared to the other wide receivers drafted around his ADP, but he's entering an improved offensive situation and can provide you with a safe, consistent output at a discounted price after his statistical anomaly in 2014. While others in your league are drafting younger receivers at their ceilings, you can draft a heavily targeted veteran with a high floor who's proven to be very capable of finishing the year as a WR2.