Much can be said about DeSean Jackson's electric rookie preseason so far. In just three exhibition matchups, Jackson has already amassed a league-high 16 catches for 189 yards—an 11.81 YPA average—and has established himself as Donovan McNabb's go-to guy.
In the absence of fellow wideouts Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, Jackson led the team to two consecutive wins, as he proved able to stretch the field and create matchup problems for any opposing defenses.
In addition, Jackson's return game has been nothing short of outstanding, returning punts of 76 and 45 yards in his last game, including one breathtaking TD run.
Like Steve Smith and Brian Mitchell before him, Jackson started out returning punts after making considerable impact at that position in college. But after Smith's rookie Pro Bowl appearance, he quickly developed into a reliable receiver. Mitchell, on the other hand, was outstanding as a running back, even as he continued to break records as a return man.
Jackson, in comparison, though primarily a return man, has drawn even more attention for his receiving game.
More so, Steve Smith was a third-round selection, while Brian Mitchell was picked in the fifth round. Neither was thought to become some of the most elite players to ever play at that position.
Neither was DeSean Jackson.
Selected midway through the second round, he was though to be too small to ever be any good and was therefore not selected until Pick No. 49 rolled around and the Eagles decided to give him a chance.
What Jackson did not know at that time was that, at 5'10", he was actually taller than Smith. And only one inch shorter than Mitchell. His build is actually similar to the two of them—stocky but powerful.
So, is it safe to start comparing Jackson to some of the league's best? Perhaps the next Steve Smith or the multi-dimensional Brian Mitchell?
Not so fast, says QB Donovan McNabb.
“I don't think it's fair for people to look at it and say all of a sudden that he is going to be the next Steve Smith and compare him to some of the greats,” McNabb said. “You kind of have to give people an opportunity to get adjusted to this league.”
Yet in just a few short weeks, Jackson has already shown he has adjusted as a player. McNabb has shown confidence in him by threading difficult passes through coverage when he is under pressure—most of which are taken by Jackson for extra yardage.
He is also possibly the only player since T.O. that could get open through any pass coverage, despite his size. Jerry Rice, his longtime mentor and friend, was already convinced that the rookie was the best route-runner he had ever seen.
McNabb, however, is still convinced that Jackson will have some work to do getting used to regular-season press coverages and may even have trouble getting off the line.
"Most teams we've played play coverages sometimes where they are not pressed and up on (receivers), and are pretty much vanilla.”
McNabb is wary of the hype surrounding Jackson, despite admitting that Jackson had stepped up and had been playing phenomenally up to this point.
“I think he has done a great job. (But) I have been here a while, so I've seen when rookies come in and catch a couple balls and everyone gets excited,” McNabb said. “All of a sudden the question goes out—'What happened and why isn't he still playing or making a lot of plays?'"
Based on McNabb's comment's, it seems that even if Jackson will encounter early career troubles at wide receiver, it wouldn't be out of his reach to soon become one of the NFL's premier punt returners.
Besides, as far as wide receivers go, doesn't it typically take up to three years for the new guys to find their niche in the league?
In any event, with three standout preseason games already in the books, the start of the regular season is right around the corner.
And with the season comes DeSean Jackson's chance to prove that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the best position players in NFL history.