Through seven weeks, DeSean Jackson leads the Washington Redskins in targets. However, it feels as though he has had less of an impact on the offense. While the ball has come his way more than any other Redskin receiver, Jackson isn’t producing like he used to or even like some of his teammates.
Though he is number one in targets, Jackson is fourth on Washington in receptions. Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed being ahead of him are explicable, but even Jamison Crowder has seemingly surpassed Jackson in terms of reliability and production in the offense. For a man who is still considered one of the best deep threats in the entire NFL, this is somewhat alarming. He still possesses that high-end speed that stretches a defense and changes a game through one play. And perhaps that is the answer to Jackson’s supposed dip in effectiveness. Perhaps he is doing just as much without getting the ball as he used to do with it.
With Jackson popping the top off a defense with any deep reception, it forces safeties deep to help whoever has main coverage on him. This opens up the center of the field for the other Washington receivers who excel in such space. Garcon and Crowder can both work wonders in open space against nickel corners or linebackers. There are few defenders in the league who can cover Reed regardless of circumstances, but he too is even more effective when safety help is forced elsewhere.
Also Jackson has never been a huge quantity guy in terms of receptions. Throughout his career, the big play has defined his place in the league. Jackson’s career high in receptions is just 82, and that was the only season he even reached 65 catches. Instead of volume, Jackson succeeds with quality of catches, with a career 17.4 yards-per-reception average. So the amount of balls Jackson is coming away with this season is no cause for concern. What the issue seems to be is what has happened once he has caught the ball. 2016, if it continues like this, would easily set a career-worst mark in yards per reception. He also has just one touchdown and has yet to break a play longer than 44 yards. All would be career lows even compared with seasons where he missed a number of games because of injury.
While defenses are still treating Jackson like his game-breaking self, Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense are not. This works to the benefit of the Redskins. As teams give Jackson extra attention, Cousins looks elsewhere for better options. It’s why Reed had 33 catches in just five games; it’s why Crowder is on pace to eclipse his fine rookie season across the board.
Cousins, as with quarterbacks throughout the league, is throwing shorter and releasing the ball quicker than he used to. With the burst that pass rushers get these days, this is unavoidable in all but selective situations. His yards per attempt are down from each of the past two seasons. This works to the detriment of Jackson, whose game is predicated on getting time to work down field. He still leads the team in catches over 20 yards, meaning he has a secure place in this offense, but how often Cousins can hit him is what is changing.
Also, the dip in Cousins’ effectiveness from last season has to play a part in this. When a quarterback isn’t as comfortable or as consistent, a team’s best receiver suffers the most in some respect. He is the guy who has the toughest throws come his way against the best coverage. With Cousins’ inability to always find Jackson, some think trading away the wide receiver is the best option. Though his stat line wouldn’t be missed in the most literal sense, moving on from Jackson could have unintended consequences. If opponents are no longer worried about a player with game-breaking speed, it tightens up the entire field for everyone else.