Regardless of the off-the-field talk that has surrounded DeSean Jackson since his release from the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the tape tells us that the wide receiver can still produce and put stress on opposing secondaries.
Jackson will be joining the Washington Redskins in 2014, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, and should provide a spark to an offense that ranked 16th in passing last season.
Now looks like a three-year agreement between the Washington Redskins and WR DeSean Jackson.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 2, 2014
Today, let’s focus on Jackson’s skill set using examples from the All-22 coaches tape to highlight the playmaking ability that allowed the former Eagle to produce over 1,300 yards receiving during the 2013 season.
Deep-Ball Speed/Big-Play Ability
Top-tier straight-line speed plus the ability to weave, stem and gain leverage throughout the release.
With Jackson, we are looking at a receiver who can get up on a defender’s cushion quickly versus off-man, use his lateral quickness to expose poor technique in press and also display the separation speed to get the football down the field.
Jackson saw a variety of off-man and press looks during the 2013 season, and there were times when defenders would align at eight—even nine—yards off the ball to respect his straight-line speed.
Here’s an example of that from the Eagles' matchup versus the Vikings in Minnesota.
With the Vikings playing Cover 1 (man-free) and Jackson in a plus-two split (two yards on top of the numbers), the cornerback is nine yards off the ball (inside shade). Now look at the alignment of the safety at 20 yards in order to create enough depth to get over the top of the fade.
A lot of respect here from the Vikings to ensure they can take away the deep ball.
I talked about eating up a defender’s cushion (initial distance between defensive back and wide receiver). That’s key with Jackson because of his ability to work the cornerback up the field and establish a leverage position on the 9 route (fade), deep post and the 7 (corner) route from a press position.
Let’s look at an example of this from the Eagles' matchup against the Raiders, with cornerback D.J. Hayden playing off and using a “bail” technique (open hips and sink) versus a straight, vertical stem from Jackson.
With Jackson aligned outside the numbers, Hayden sinks with an inside shade (uses sideline as his help). However, because Jackson gets up on the cornerback’s initial cushion so quickly, the wide receiver now has the opportunity to stem to the post route inside Hayden and gain leverage/positioning.
This play is over before quarterback Nick Foles even throws the ball because Jackson wins at the top of the stem (break point) to pin Hayden to the outside. And with free safety Charles Woodson jumping Riley Cooper underneath, there is no deep, inside help to prevent Jackson from picking up an explosive gain.
Think of it this way: True vertical speed is going to impact defensive game plans in both single-high and two-deep schemes because it forces defensive backs to adjust their alignment/technique to prevent the deep ball.
And Jackson has the ability to blow the top off any defense as he showed versus the Buccaneers’ Cover 6 shell (quarter-quarter-half) when he drew the matchup of safety Dashon Goldson.
With the strong safety occupied to the closed side of the formation, Jackson has a “two-way go” versus Goldson out of the slot. With no help inside, that’s trouble for any safety in the league versus Jackson’s vertical speed.
Jackson Versus Press-Man
Jackson can win versus press-man because of that lateral quickness on the release. This forces defensive backs in a press position to play with the proper technique (slide the feet, jam with opposite hand, work to inside hip) to avoid falling into a trail position.
Here’s an example of Jackson against the Raiders, with cornerback Mike Jenkins in a press position versus the 9 route.
Jenkins gets his hands on Jackson and is in the proper position to use the sideline as his help (outside release). However, look at the cornerback’s footwork (Jenkins crosses his feet on the jam). That allows Jackson to work through the contact and eventually stack on top of the cornerback for an explosive gain.
This all goes back to technique versus Jackson. I’ve watched defensive backs play straight press, use a “quick jam” or go with a “taxi” technique (inch off from press, drive to hip once receiver declares stem).
And if defensive backs fail to stay square versus Jackson and let him gain the edge on the release, he is going to use that speed to stack on top. That’s a tough position to recover from as a cornerback.
Look at this matchup versus the Chargers, with Jackson weaving on the release to gain inside position.
Jackson separates after quarterback Michael Vick throws this ball, and he pulls away from the cornerback while eliminating the safety’s angle from the middle of the field to produce a touchdown.
As you can see from the picture, there is that separation speed down the field with Jackson. That forces middle-of-the-field safeties to play with even more depth and produce a clean angle to the ball to account for Jackson's ability on the 9 route.
Short-to-Intermediate Route Tree/Production After the Catch
The deep ball sells with Jackson because he can flip the field and expose the top of the secondary. But Jackson’s ability underneath (or in the intermediate route tree) has to be discussed because of the numbers he can produce after the catch.
In 2013, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly did an excellent job of maximizing Jackson’s skill set in his system, using the bubble screen (packaged plays), the shallow drive route (underneath crossing route) out of the Hi-Lo concepts and the dig (square-in), curl, out, etc.
Kelly created favorable matchups for Jackson using alignment/motion to give the receiver multiple opportunities to showcase his speed/route-running ability underneath.
This is an example of one of the top routes in the Eagles' system: Hi-Lo Mesh.
With Jackson aligned on the ball (alert to Hi-Lo) as the slot receiver (or No. 2) to the open side of the formation, the Eagles will create traffic inside versus the Redskins' Cover 1 scheme by using crossing routes to take advantage of defenders playing from an outside leverage position.
The crossing routes force the slot defender to bubble over the inside traffic. That gives Jackson the opportunity to work away from the initial leverage, separate and catch the ball to produce an explosive gain with the running back clearing out on the wheel route.
Here’s another example of the same route, with the added window dressing of Jackson aligned in the backfield.
Again, Kelly uses the wide receiver’s skill set to create a one-on-one matchup from a “chowed” alignment (outside leg of the offensive tackle) on the Hi-Lo concept to produce the same result: Jackson working away from the defender’s leverage.
What Are You Getting with Jackson?
Instead, Jackson (5’10”, 175 pounds) has to use his speed and lateral quickness to gain leverage within the route stem and at the break point (think of the burst out of his cut to run the deep dig). Plus, he will create separation on the curl, comeback and out because he can push a cornerback down the field, sell the 9/post and break back downhill to the football.
As I talked about above, Jackson will take advantage of—or expose—subpar technique in press-man to stack on top of defensive backs and separate down the field.
However, there are games and situations where Jackson struggled to win versus top-tier talent/technique.
Go check out the matchup versus the Cardinals and Patrick Peterson, where the cornerback stayed square, used his help and put himself in position to play the fade, shallow drive, etc.
Looking at Jackson's overall skill set, I do believe his speed, route-running and matchup ability will continue to impact defensive game plans next season.
Even though the Eagles did generate specific matchups for Jackson to exploit, from my perspective as a former NFL defensive back, there is no substitute for big-play ability. That impacts how you prepare, play and adjust on Sundays versus a receiver such as Jackson, who can flip the field on multiple route schemes.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.