Will DeSean Jackson's Move to the Eagles Make a Big Impact in Fantasy Football?
The great John Steinbeck once wrote that “It’s a thing to see when a boy comes home.”
Jackson played for the Eagles in his first six NFL seasons, developing into one of the game's elite deep-ball weapons. From 2008 to 2013, he caught 356 passes for 6,117 yards with 32 touchdowns -- posting an eye-catching clip of 17.2 yards per reception. Since leaving Philly, Jackson has split time with Washington and Tampa Bay, reeling in another 233 balls for 4,144 yards and 21 scores.
Of the 48 players with at least 10,000 career receiving yards, Jackson ranks sixth all-time in yards per reception, at 17.4. The Eagles will no doubt be looking for this type of lid-lifting, big-play output in Jackson’s second go-round with the team. But with a lot more tread on his tires, can D-Jax still deliver the goods?
Filling a Need
If there was one major criticism of the Eagles' offense in 2018, it was that it lacked a serious downfield threat.
They had this to an extent in 2017, when Torrey Smith gave opposing defenses something to worry about down the field. Smith didn’t put up massive numbers during the Eagles' Super Bowl season, reeling in just 36 of his 67 targets for 430 yards and two touchdowns. But he kept defences honest and helped the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz have an easier time of it underneath.
The Eagles dealt Smith to the Carolina Panthers prior to the 2018 campaign, and in his stead, the team signed another speedster in Mike Wallace. Wallace missed most of last year with a broken leg, however, and the lack of a field stretcher was a glaring hole on the Eagles.
Jackson’s ability to produce big plays is not a mystery to the Eagles, of course. Jackson leads all Eagles players since 1950 with 17 touchdowns of at least 50 yards. He has also scored three 50-plus-yard touchdowns against Philly, the most the team has allowed any player since 1950 (per Reuben Frank).
Jackson has led the NFL in yards per reception four times in his career, including twice in his last three seasons. Last year, in his age-32 season, D-Jax's 18.9 yards per grab paced the league. He's still got it.
Bad Days at the Bay
Jackson started the 2018 campaign on fire, with three 100-yard games in his first four weeks. He caught 17 of his 22 targets in this span for 387 yards and three touchdowns. A whopping 129 of the yards came against the Eagles in Week 2, including a 75-yard touchdown.
But the Bucs and Jackson couldn’t maintain this level of explosiveness, and he was hampered by the change at quarterback from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Jameis Winston. Jackson averaged 11.37 adjusted yards per attempt when Fitzpatrick targeted him in 2018, against a woeful 2.89 when looked for by Winston.
If we look at Jackson using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, we can see that he really did enjoy a season of two halves.
In the first four weeks of the year, Jackson averaged 1.18 Target NEP per target and 1.64 Reception NEP per target. Once Week 5 came round and Fitzpatrick was no longer the starter (instead being part of a short-lived rotation), Jackson's numbers took a tumble. From Week 5 on, D-Jax's Target NEP per target was -0.08 with a Reception NEP per target of 0.51.
Overall for the year. Jackson ranked 52nd in Target NEP per target (0.26) among of the 84 wide receivers who got at least 50 targets. Although his 0.82 Reception NEP per target was good for 19th, boosted by his big-play prowess.
Jackson will not be expected to come in and operate as the guy in Philadelphia. But to be fair, he’s never really been that wherever he has played. The highest target share of his career was a 22.8% share in 2013. His career single-season average is just north of 16%.
We know Jeffery and Ertz will likely soak up the bulk of the targets as long as they're healthy. And Agholor commanded 16.4% of the looks last season and 17.1% in 2017 when Smith was around, and Philly appears set to keep him in the fold for 2019.
So while the aforementioned three Eagles pass-catchers may lose some targets to Jackson, it doesn't appear as if D-Jax will offer a ton of fantasy appeal. If anything, his arrival could give a slight boost to those around him due to defenses needing to account for his wheels.
One guy Jackson could have a positive impact on is Carson Wentz. Warren Sharp has noted that Wentz excels throwing the routes that Jackson runs best, making this a partnership that should bear fruit when called on. Wentz already appears to have got the memo with regards to what his new wide receiver will ask of him.
For much of his career, Jackson has been a classic boom-or-bust fantasy option. He has 29 games with 20 or more PPR points, but he also has 62 games in which he failed to get to double-digit PPR points.
While this volatility makes him ideal for best-ball formats, it also makes him very tough to trust in weekly formats of fantasy football. That doesn't figure to change in 2019 unless Ertz or Jeffery gets injured.
This is a great move for the Eagles in real-world football, but it's unlikely to make many waves in fantasy.