Sometimes, we probably make things more complicated than they need to be.
In 2011, DeSean Jackson averaged 64.1 yards per game, 16.6 yards per catch and totaled four touchdowns. All were three-year lows, leading many (including yours truly) to devote quite a bit of space to writing about Jackson's attitude and mental state.
To be fair, those were relevant issues, especially after Andy Reid benched Jackson in the second half of one game and suspended him altogether against the Cardinals. Jackson has admitted that the contract was weighing on his mind last year and he was a distracted player.
But wide receivers are largely judged on two things: the ability to get open, and the ability to catch the football.
Now that Jackson has a new contract, is it fair to think he'll bounce back in 2012?
Despite all the talk about defenses playing their safeties deep (which they did) and teams figuring out how to stop Jackson, the truth is he could have at least changed the narrative slightly by simply catching the football when he was open. And I'm not talking about the catches in the middle of the field where defensive backs were looking to crush him. Or even the catches in the red zone, where space get tighter and he's largely been a non-factor.
I'm talking about the bombs - the passes 20 yards or more downfield where Jackson gets past the cornerback and safety. The plays that Jackson relies on to be effective. The true game-changers.
According to STATS.com, Jackson had nine overall drops. Below are drop numbers for the Eagles' top three wide receivers from a year ago. The last column is simply the percentage of "catchable" balls that were dropped.
As you can see, Jackson was the worst of the group. But what makes those numbers more alarming are that Jackson dropped four balls that were 20+ yards downfield. To be exact, they were 40, 25, 43 and 50 yards downfield. Even if you take away YAC and assume Jackson would have been tackled right away, adding in those four catches would have made his 2011 numbers look like this: 62 catches, 1,119 yards and 18.0 YPR.
What's the point? For starters, Jackson is still getting open. He's still beating defensive backs. And the Eagles are still designing plays to get him the ball and hit on big plays. Something as simple as catching the football in 2012 will likely determine whether he has an OK year or an outstanding year.
It should be noted that Jackson has had issues with drops for most of his career, so until he proves that they're not an issue, it's fair to be skeptical. But if he can just cut down on them slightly, it's reasonable to project that he'll once again be one of the best vertical threats in the game.