The Tampa Bay Buccaneers invested some big money in wide receiver Vincent Jackson this offseason. A five-year, $55.55 million contract is nothing to sneeze at, and Jackson has tried hard to earn his keep. So far, he's done a good job - when the Bucs have used him the way he's best used. He has 16 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns this season, putting him on pace to hit 64 catches for 1,216 yards and 8 touchdowns. His whopping 19.0 yards per catch rank among the season leaders.
All of those numbers are impressive, but the Bucs' blog comes with another one: he has never dropped a pass. That, at least, is what happened according to 'Statspass' - which means I am now noting that organization's statistics as "never, ever use". I've seen several passes on intermediate routes bounce off Vincent Jackson's hands. Whether those are officially characterized as 'drops' by Statspass or not, he hasn't made every catch he could have comfortably made. That doesn't mean he hasn't been a good receiver, but at a 42.1% completion rate he doesn't have the best hands in the business - even if most of those incompletions are Josh Freeman's fault.
One problem with the way the Bucs have used Jackson this year is that they're attempting to turn him into a complete wide receiver - someone who can run every route in the route tree. That's not Jackson's game. He's not the quick, agile slot receiver who exploits holes in zone coverage. He's not the guy who's going to make someone miss after the catch on a screen. He's not someone who you want to send on a shallow crossing route to have him try to break up field.
No, Vincent Jackson is best when he's facing off coverage and screaming down the field. He will outrun those defensive backs, and he will go up and make that catch on the deep ball. That has always been the staple of Jackson's game, and it's amazing that he still manages to do that. Yet the Bucs don't use him that way nearly often enough, certainly not early in the game.
To be fair to the Bucs, they do ask him to run deep quite a lot. This is a vertical passing game the team has implemented. But for a vertical passing game to work you need a quarterback who will throw it deep early in the game - and that's something Freeman hasn't done, even when there has been opportunity to do so. To me, it seems like Freeman is still trying to be the game manager who takes no risks whatsoever early in the game. That is a bad thing, and it's not how you win football games.
Jackson has done well so far, and has been the key to Tampa Bay's deep passing game. Yet the Bucs have not used him nearly enough, especially early in games, and should be going deep quite a bit more often. Can Freeman do that?