Earlier today, ESPN’s divisional bloggers got together to compile a list of the most underrated players in the NFL. Among such odd choices as Matt Forte (Bears) and London Fletcher (Redskins), Eagles center Jamaal Jackson wound up the odds-on selection for Philadelphia.
Originally an undrafted free agent signed by the Birds in 2003, Jackson first started for an injured Hank Fraley in 2005. After shining for the remaining eight games, Jackson was offered a massive contract extension that offseason, and wound up in a much publicized roster battle with Fraley throughout training camp in 2006. The two even made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Eventually, Fraley was traded to Cleveland and Jackson would go on to start the following 63 regular season games for the Eagles, proving to be the most consistent and arguably the most dominating offensive lineman on the squad for nearly four years.
Late in 2009, though, in a close win over the Denver Broncos, Jackson blew out his ACL. He would miss the rest of the regular season, the playoffs, and all of the following offseason, then miraculously defy team doctors and trainers – who had given his recovery a 12-14 month timetable – by suiting up and starting less than nine months after the injury, on opening day 2010. Tragically, in one of the most costly single games in Philadelphia Eagles history, Jackson would follow Leonard Weaver, Kevin Kolb and Stewart Bradley off the field with a game ending triceps injury, later learning that his season – for the second year in a row – was over.
Jackson is expected to be fully healthy for the start of this year’s training camp, but will once again find himself battling for a starting spot. Mike McGlynn, in his fourth and possibly final year with the Birds, will be looking to build on a solid 2010 campaign and earn a long-term contract extension as the permanent starting center. It’s a battle Jackson could very well lose. The question, for coaches, will be whether the big guy is “injury-prone” – a phrase I’ve never really understood – or if he’s simply had a couple of unlucky games. He’ll also be fighting an uphill battle by competing with players (McGlynn, Nick Cole) who can play multiple positions on the line. In short, there’s a chance Jamaal Jackson might not even be on the team in 2011, and as a result I disagree completely with NFC East blogger Dan Graziano’s selection today for ESPN.com.
As much as I respect Jamaal Jackson – and I have a white 67 jersey to prove it – I don’t think he’s accomplished enough recently to earn the title of “most underrated Eagle” right now, in 2011. It’s true he was ridiculously durable and consistent as a starter, and he held his own against an inordinate amount of 1-on-1 matchups for a center. But when you’re talking about a roster that includes Jeremy Maclin, a guy who would top the depth chart on 90% of the teams in the NFL, a guy who outscored Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, and tied Roddy White for touchdowns in 2010 as the number two receiver for the Eagles, a guy who can play deep, across the middle, in the slot, and even out of the backfield and prove himself one of the most clutch possession receivers in the game after only two seasons in the league, a guy who never, ever, gets respect or even recognition outside of Philadelphia… well, needless to say I think it’s a crime to snub JMac once again in favor of a player who hasn’t seen the field since December 2009.
Maybe it’s because the media rarely, if ever, pays much attention to a team’s number two WR, regardless of how good he is, until he leaves and becomes a one someplace else. Maybe it’s because 18 isn’t as flashy, arrogant, or outspoken as some of the 81s and 85s out there; he doesn’t date reality stars or race cheetahs in the offseason. All he does is catch balls. But it truly angers the hell out of me to see all these fanalysts consistently leave him out of their “Top Offensive Player” and “Top 20 Receiver” lists while, at the same time, they’re gonna be drafting him in the third or even second round in their fantasy drafts this year. If he were on the Browns, he’d be their MVP every season. If he were a Cowboy, he’d have the highest selling jersey in the country by now. But he plays in Philly, behind the only other receiver in the game who could possibly outrank him on a depth chart, and because of this he is, without question, one of the most underrated players in all of football. Sorry Jamaal.
But we are, after all, talking about the Birds here, and I’m sure there are probably hundreds of people out there disagreeing with me right this moment. So have at me. Who do you think is the most underrated Eagle? Jason Avant? Trent Cole? Quintin Mikell? Swoop? Let me hear about it in the comments.