ESPN Blogger Examines DeSean Jackson's Declining Return Game

ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano explored yesterday what has become the false notion that DeSean Jackson is one of the most explosive kick returners in the NFL.

Jackson showed tremendous gamebreaking ability throughout his first three seasons in an Eagles uniform, but struggled on his limited return opportunities in 2011.

Yesterday on SportsCenter, NFL analyst Mark Schlereth said he would prioritize the signing of DeSean Jackson over that of LeSean McCoy, despite the fact that Jackson acted like a “petulant child” (his words) last season. Schlereth reasons that resigning Jackson must be at the top of the Eagles’ to-do list simply because his free agency comes before McCoy’s. Fair enough.

But Schlereth went on to say Jackson is one of the most dynamic receivers and returners in the game. That’s where Graziano jumped in with his thoughts:

With all due respect to Mark, Jackson was neither of those things in 2011, and especially not the second. Jackson returned a career-low 17 punts in 2011 for a career-low average of 6.7 yards per return and no touchdowns. (Remember, no one in our division returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown all season.) It’s possible Jackson was holding back on punt returns — even possible that the team was holding him back — due to concerns over injury and his ability to get his long-term contract should an injury occur. But I think the perception of Jackson as a dynamic punt returner is an outdated one.

Jackson returned 50 punts for an average of 8.8 yards per return and one touchdown in his rookie season of 2008. The following year, 2009, is the one that established him as a great punt returner. He returned 29 punts that year for a 15.2-yard average and two touchdowns, and in 2010 he returned 20 for an average of 11.6 yards and one touchdown of which Giants fans couldn’t let go until two weeks ago. That’s the last punt Jackson has returned for a touchdown, and as you see his total returns and average yards per return are dropping each year.

I want to give you the old “haters gonna hate” line here, but Graziano makes an interesting point–Jackson’s receiving numbers weren’t the only ones that declined in 2011. Blame it on the contract situation, injuries, whatever–but Jackson’s detractors can point to his declining statistics as reason enough to let the former Cal standout walk this spring. And really, that’s what makes the Eagles’ impending decision on Jackson so difficult. Was 2011 simply an anamoly, a speed bump in his ascension as one of the NFL’s elite stars, or is Jackson beginning to wear down after only four seasons in the league?

It’s a hell of a question–one that the Eagles now have 13 days to figure out.

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