Desean Jackson Emerging as a Legit No. 1 Receiver in 6th Season

Andrew KulpContributor IOctober 11, 2013

Sep 9, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For years there has been an ongoing debate in Philadelphia over whether DeSean Jackson is even the best wide receiver on his own team, let alone a true No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. With Jeremy Maclin down for the season with a torn ACL, Jackson is both on the Eagles for right now—and he’s filling the roles quite capably.

If Jackson isn’t a legitimate No. 1 receiver, who is?

Only three players had racked up more receiving yards than Jackson’s 525 entering Week 6. First with 593 is New OrleansJimmy Graham, a tight end. Second at 580 is Atlanta’s Julio Jones, who suddenly is out for the year. That leaves Baltimore’s Torrey Smith with 556 yards as the only healthy, more prolific wide receiver than Jackson this season.

Need more evidence? What about the simple fact that he’s arguably the catalyst for Philadelphia’s offense. In games where Jackson comes up with at least seven catches, 100 yards and a touchdown, the Eagles are averaging 33 points per game with a 2-1 record—anything less than that, the offense sputters to 14.5 points and the Birds are 0-2.

Pretty sure the demand the offense places on Jackson to perform makes him a No. 1 by definition, or at the very least by default.

You can almost forgive people for forgetting how amazing Jackson truly is. His numbers had been progressively on the decline since his breakout year in 2009. There was a bitter contract dispute that affected Jackson’s concentration during the '11 campaign, while an injury cut the lost season in '12 short.

Then again, even the two-time Pro Bowler’s worst finish in yards per game—63.6 last season—still put him on track for 1,000 yards over a full 16-game season. That milestone alone would make Jackson a No. 1 in a lot of eyes.

Now the sixth-year veteran is on track and headed for a career year. Jackson is currently on pace to set new personal bests in basically every major statistical category—receptions (90), yards (1,680) and touchdowns (10)—not to mention is answering a lot of questions about his makeup as a so-called “complete” receiver.

Prior to 2013, Jackson had never hauled in more than 62 passes in a season. The knock then was he would never be a high-volume receiver. How about now?

Jackson was also thought to be ineffective when the field shrinks due to his size (5’10”, 175 lbs), particularly inside the red zone. He did catch a five-yard pass against the New York Giants last Sunday though, and even his score from 25 yards out against Washington in Week 1 qualifies as the ninth-shortest of his career.

Where Jackson does fail to meet the criteria of a No. 1 receiver is that he can still be taken out of a game. Kansas City and Denver employed press tactics and occasionally shaded a safety over the top, causing the former second-round pick to disappear for long stretches of time or become ineffective altogether depending on your viewpoint.

But even Detroit’s Calvin Johnson—the NFL’s preeminent wide receiver—gets shut down on occasion. Not to mention Jackson is drawing more than his share of attention from the secondary regardless of what any numbers say.

Would a taller, more physical receiver than Djacc be more ideal? There’s no denying the advantages a player has when he’s 200-plus pounds and can literally fight off a defensive back, or is 6’5” and can out-jump most NBA players to collect a pass in the clouds well above the coverage.

Jackson’s skill set may be unique, but that alone does not preclude him from the title of No. 1. He has the numbers and he is that integral to the Eagles offense.

And as long as he keeps this up, he’s going to be a No. 1 receiver on somebody’s Pro Bowl roster this January.