Last week, ESPN’s Matt Bowen ranked the fastest players in the NFL. Not through some more-or-less objective measurement of top speed, or average speed, or something like that—but still, Bowen’s a pretty good and experienced analyst, so even his subjective opinion has some value.
And that subjective Bowen opinion says DeSean Jackson is the fifth-fastest player in the NFL. Even at his advanced age (eh....30).
Even at age 30, Jackson hasn't slowed down on the tape. One of the top deep threats in the league, Jackson has the ideal combination of vertical speed, route-running ability and body control at the point of attack. We saw that this past season when Jackson smoked the Giants on a deep post (watch). Separate on the break, track the ball and then make a highlight grab. That's smooth. Based on what I see, I bet Jackson would drop a 4.3 on the stopwatch today. He can still fly.
I don’t know if Jackson’s lost some speed, but he can clearly still buzz by defenders and force safeties to stay deep. Which is exactly why the Bucs signed him—not just to catch the deep balls, but to create room for other players to work underneath as well.
Bowen’s not the only one who talked about Jackson’s speed recently, as Daniel O’Boyle addressed that for the Tampa Bay Times, too—in a piece curiously implying the Bucs are only know starting to understand how fast he is. I don’t think they gave him all that money because they didn’t get that he’s fast, dude.
But O’Boyle did dig up some nice stats to show just how fast the veteran receiver is.
How fast is Jackson? His 22.6 mph recorded on a 56-yard reception against the Arizona Cardinals was the second-highest top-speed of any ballcarrier in the league last year, behind Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. His 17.7 yards per reception, the product of countless deep balls behind burned defensive backs, are first among all active players. Last year he gained 17.9 yards per catch, enough to lead the league for the third time in his career, no player in history has placed first in the league more often.
Want to know what speed can do for an offense? Look no further than the 2005-07 Bucs. Staffed with quarterbacks who ranged from completely incompetent to more-or-less-as-good-as-Mike-Glennon, the Bucs managed to get decent production out of a passing game in part thanks to Joey Galloway.
Galloway managed 202 receptions for 3,258 yards and 23 touchdowns with a very impressive 16.6 yards per catch on some thoroughly mediocre (or worse) offenses. He had to catch passes from Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and a nearly-done Jeff Garcia. NFL Films even named him the eighth fastest NFL player of all time.
Moreover, Galloway was on the Bucs’ last two playoff teams, too. While those teams were carried by the defense and didn’t go very far in the playoffs, mostly thanks to their offensive limitations, I still think Galloway was a very underrated part of the team’s limited successes during the post-Super Bowl years.
The limitations of the Bucs’ successes with Galloway do point to one limitation with DeSean Jackson, too. Speed is a valuable addition to an offense and can help add production, but it cannot transform an offense by itself. Jackson has spent plenty of time on mediocre offenses to attest to that.
Ultimately, DeSean Jackson will add a new dimension to the team, but the offensive improvement is going to have to come from all 11 offensive players that are on the field—and most of all, from Jameis Winston. This is still a quarterback-driven league, after all.