Free Agency 2011 – The Desean Dilemma

| August 1, 2011

With Desean Jackson holding out, there’s been much debate around the league as to what he’s actually worth.
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Earlier in the offseason, we displayed Jackson’s alarming number of drops, which is clearly an issue, but offsetting that are the big plays he provides. No one would argue with the thought that he’s a perfect fit for the Philadelphia offense, especially considering Mike Vick’s willingness to go long and his impressive deep accuracy.
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Let’s look at one of the main criticisms aimed at Jackson; the idea that he fails to perform against top competition.

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It’s evident from the table below that his strongest 2010 games came against lesser secondaries. He combined for 55 receptions, 840 yards and five touchdowns in eight games against teams in the bottom twelve of our rankings.
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Comparatively, in his five other games, he had just 18 catches for 229 yards and no scores. A drop off is to be expected, but those numbers are not insignificant.
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Desean Jackson, 2010

Opponent
PFF Cover Rank
Receptions
Targets
Yards
Touchdowns
Green Bay4411300
Green Bay424470
Chicago825260
NYG14510500
NYG1436520
San Francisco1725260
Indianapolis20781091
Minnesota22212320
Dallas24472101
Detroit27471351
Washington3037190
Washington3023981
Jacksonville31571531
Houston3234840

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While the table provides a nice overall picture, specific matchups are even more intriguing. Primarily working against Tramon Williams (+9.7 coverage grade) Jackson came up with just one grab on five targets for 3 yards. When the two met again in the wildcard game, he was targeted twice but ended the day without a catch.
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In contrast, against Mike Jenkins (-6.4) and Terrence Newman (-9.0), he gained 151 yards and added a touchdown on two catches. So too did he dominate against the Jags. Jackson took David Jones (-5.7 on 175 snaps) and Michael Coe (-2.4 on 11 snaps) to school, hauling in four receptions on six targets for 128 yards (and a TD).
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The same theme can be found when looking at his play in 2009. Perennial top corner Champ Bailey (+6.9) held him to just three receptions on eight targets for 31 yards. His most impressive performance of the year, Week 14 against the Giants, saw him do his damage when matched up against back-up safeties Aaron Rouse and Michael Johnson. Jackson gained over 100 yards on two receptions and a TD.
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There’s been a lot of speculation about Jackson’s contract numbers because of the new deal for Jets WR Santonio Holmes. He received a five year contract worth $50 million with $24 million guaranteed. Holmes, however, has performed more consistently against better competition and doesn’t make for a good comparison.
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Desean Jackson is among the most explosive players in the NFL – we recently did a study that showed how dangerous he can be when going deep. He can, however, be taken away and not just by the elite corners. The huge discrepancy in his production against varying levels of competition has to concern Philly fans though, especially considering the quality cover teams they’ll likely face come playoff time.
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  • bears0492

    It seems to me like DeSean is more easily taken out by anyone who can keep up with him. I’m guessing people like Tramon Williams, Tim Jennings, DeAngelo Hall, etc were able to atleast somewhat match his speed, limiting his strengths.

    thoughts?

  • yaopau

    Couple thoughts…

    (1) Isn’t there that discrepancy for basically every receiver? I can’t think of many big WR games given up all year by the Bears (Mike Williams had a lot of catches in one game I believe). Tramon gave up like 35 yards receiving on average per game, so it sounds like nobody was beating him.

    (2) I mostly study NBA advanced stats, and 3pt shooters usually perform well in a regression stat called adjusted plus minus even when their box score numbers aren’t great. I take that to mean that 3pt shooters provide a benefit to their team just due to the threat of taking a 3pt shot. Teams can’t double off 3pt shooters, for example, or can’t help defend as easily to cover penetrators. I wonder if an elite deep threat works the same way. Even if he’s just an okay receiver, he’s such a threat that he forces safeties over, and opens up the field for other receivers.