Wednesday, April 2, 2014

DeSean Jackson is Football Terrifying

By: Ben Johnson

"I'm going to run away from you using my legs, like this..." (legs running gesture)
The Washington Redskins are at it again. They’ve improved themselves in the offseason, on paper, where the games are not played. This time what they’ve done is sign recently released former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. DeSean Jackson the alleged Honorary Crip and bad locker room influence (according to “a source within the Eagles organization, who requested anonymity,” which is now officially shorthand for “the Executive Vice President in charge of shady, cynical, ass-covering media spin and bottom-line-enhancing serial character assassination of black men”) who has averaged 17 yards per catch over a six year career.

I’ve never met DeSean Jackson. I don’t know if I would be terrified or not if I did. I’ve only ever seen him play in football games. In that context, he often scowls. He seems very serious. It would be fair to describe his visage, the few times I’ve seen it while watching football on TV, as “intimidating.” I don’t know if that’s his personality, or if that’s how he looks when he’s trying to remember where he put his cell phone, or if that’s his “game face.” I’ve never played professional football, but I know it’s a violent sport played by men way tougher than me. I bet there’s a psychological element where you have to appear to be tough. I bet there’s such a thing as a “game face.” DeSean Jackson has an intimidating game face.

DeSean Jackson is terrifying.

I’m not talking about off-the-field terrifying, like “maybe he hangs out with murderers and likes to murder people and might murder a person like for instance me if for some reason I was in his immediate vicinity and did something he didn’t like.” And I’m not talking about “game face” terrifying, where I’m so intimidated by the intensity of his scowl on my television that I’m afraid to even look at my television the wrong way for fear of Jackson somehow punching me in the face through my television.

I mean he is a terrifying and devastating football player if you’re not a fan of the team he plays for. If his team is playing against your team, DeSean Jackson is one of the scariest dudes in the world. Because he is fast and good at catching footballs. Because he can and will catch footballs, often very far away from wherever the ball has been placed. There is no such thing as confidence against DeSean Jackson. He has the ability to make a touchdown happen at any time. It does not matter to DeSean Jackson how much you want him to not score a touchdown. He has no conscience as far as not scoring touchdowns is concerned. Even if you told him “DeSean, please don’t run a thousand yards down the field and score a touchdown right now, because that would make me sad,” he probably WOULDN’T EVEN CARE ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS. He would still try to run far and catch the ball and score a touchdown.

I know this. I have watched DeSean Jackson many times, and felt this terror rise in my blood. And I’m not even a guy whose job it is to stop DeSean Jackson from scoring touchdowns. I’m just a regular guy who happens to be a Redskins fan, and even I know about DeSean Jackson being terrifying. Football terrifying.

I also know about the Redskins being horrible decision-makers. The Redskins are probably as horrible at making decisions as DeSean Jackson is terrifying at scoring touchdowns. They just signed DeSean Jackson to a three year deal worth $24.3 million, of which $16 million is guaranteed, which I think is probably a very good deal for somebody as football terrifying as DeSean Jackson. The only thing that makes me think this might not be a good deal for the Redskins, really, is the fact that the Redskins made it and they are the Redskins.

An annual tradition, for me, is to look at whatever players the Redskins have recently signed for any hidden messages that the signing of that player might be a huge mistake. You know, like if that player just signed the richest contract ever for a defender and also got suspended five games for stomping on a guy’s head, or something. I’d look that up and I’d say to myself “get ready for the possibility that this currently exciting news might end up being a huge disappointment.”

So I looked up DeSean Jackson. Because DeSean Jackson is football terrifying, and because my emotions are telling me to be very excited about the Redskins’ newfound ability, with Jackson, to be football terrifying to other teams. Because the Redskins are the Redskins, I do not trust this to be the case. Here’s what I found.

The Contract:

Reports are putting the contract for Jackson at $24 million, with $16 million guaranteed, over three years. Like every other sports fan in the world, I hear numbers like these all the goddamn time as if they are supposed to carry some meaning to me. Being a sports fan is in a very literal sense like being a business fan. A great deal of the reportage on the operation of sports teams reads like an annual report to shareholders, where you as a fan are expected to give a shit about income and expense minutiae. But in football there’s such a thing as a salary cap, and how teams allocate their payroll within that constriction makes a big difference in how well they will perform on the field. So, sadly: the contract is a thing you look at when you’re curious about whether a player will help your team. If you enjoy sports, looking at a player’s contract is a thing you will do often enough to learn how to develop opinions about it, and you will do this despite knowing that you only get to be alive once.

How is this contract? According to this table made available by, the contract renders DeSean Jackson the 14th highest paid receiver in the NFL on a per year basis, but the third highest paid receiver in the NFL by guaranteed money per year of their contract. Some kind of an apocalypse could happen and the Redskins would owe Jackson $5.3 million each year until 2017. The only other wide receivers with more secure earnings on a per-year basis are Calvin Johnson and Mike Wallace, the first of whom is the best football player alive and the other is a documented homophobe who has averaged a full yard less per catch than Jackson over his career. I don’t know that tells us.

I do know that DeSean Jackson’s contract with the Eagles, which he was just released from, was for something like $10 million a year. So this is for less than that. That seems good.

The average remaining contract length of all the players who average more total money per year than Jackson is 3.69 years. So a three-year deal Jackson has just agreed to is 23% shorter than average for a highly-paid wideout. Of the top ten receivers in guaranteed money per year, a group which Jackson is a part of, the average remaining contract length is 3.22 years.

Conclusion: I don’t have any idea what I’m doing here, but it seems like this is not a bad contract.

The Production:

DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. That’s exceptional, and above average for him. Over his career he’s averaged something like 60 receptions for 1,020 yards and 5 touchdowns a year. That’s pretty good too. That includes his rookie year and an injury-marred 2012 season when he missed 5 games. His career per-game production prorated to a healthy 16 game season is 65 catches for 1,125 yards and 6 touchdowns. That’s excellent. That’s an excellent-when-healthy player who has not been chronically unhealthy in any obvious, worrisome way.

Among active receivers who qualify in however way those people over there at pro-football-reference qualify these things, DeSean Jackson is 10th in yards per game and 5th in yards per reception.

DeSean Jackson can also return punts, which the 2013 iteration of the Redskins special teams could not do very well.

Another good way to look at production is to compare DeSean Jackson to the other members of the Redskins receiving corps, which aside from Pierre Garçon consisted largely of a moldy bag full of old shoes. 

I’m kidding. They were humans. They were also not very good at catching footballs last year. Josh Morgan in particular was a disappointment. He only caught 20 passes last year while earning a reported $3,650,000 in guaranteed money and counting some amount of money against the salary cap. I don’t know how that works. I do know that DeSean Jackson is like a bunch of percent better than Josh Morgan and will cost only a measurable percent more than Morgan. The Josh Morgan contract was a very stupid thing the Redskins did. On a production basis, the DeSean Jackson contract would appear to be drastically less stupid.

Conclusion: DeSean Jackson is good at football by a factor of several Josh Morgans.

The “Scouting Report”:

I am not a football scout. I am a football fan. What my eyeballs have told me about DeSean Jackson is that he is terrifying. Specifically, he is terrifying at running really far, really fast, and then catching a football and making his team score touchdowns and/or move a lot closer than they were to the place on the field where touchdowns get scored. So far I am offering no insight into anything.

But: my eyeballs have ALSO told me that DeSean Jackson has been EXTRA terrifying when Michael Vick has been his quarterback. Vick, at his best, had the ability to scramble free of pressure and also throw the football very far down the field to the area where DeSean Jackson was currently running faster than the guy trying to cover him. Vick and Jackson were a particularly terrifying duo. I looked at numbers based on ESPN game charting for all games that Vick and Jackson played at the same time. The numbers I saw back me up on this at least somewhat.

DeSean Jackson Career
Jackson on Vick Passes
Jackson on Non-Vick Passes
Yards Per Catch:
Yards Per Catch:
Yards Per Catch:

This means that DeSean Jackson, over his career, has been approximately 21.6% more terrifying, on a yards per catch basis, with Vick as his quarterback than he was with a combination of Nick Foles, Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb, Vince Young, Matt Barkley, and some dude named Mike Kafka.

I mention this because the Redskins have an obscure young quarterback whose style of play has often been compared to Michael Vick’s. His name is Robert Griffin, and get this: there’s three of him. Wait no. I read that wrong. Truth be told I’m not familiar with the guy. Anyway, the “scouting report” on Griffin says that he is a mobile quarterback with a big arm who is comfortable operating out of a shotgun formation. Those are qualities typically ascribed to Michael Vick as well. It’s as if this guy Griffin is a younger and “more healthy” (gulp) version of Michael Vick, except without all that stuff about killing dogs on purpose.

I am not sure enough about what sort of offensive schemes the Redskins plan on using with Robert Griffin or DeSean Jackson, and I don’t know if they’ll be at all similar to what the Eagles did with Vick and Jackson. But it stands to reason that having a receiver who can run very far down the field and catch passes in that area would pair well with having a quarterback who can avoid being tackled long enough and have an arm strong enough to complete a pass to a very far down the field guy.

Conclusion: holy shit holy shit.

DeSean Jackson is terrifying! He’s our terrifying now! How am I this excited for a Redskins free agent acquisition?! This is awful! I feel dizzy and sick! He’s probably in a gang! There’s like a thousand percent chance that he’s in a gang now that he’s a Redskin. I expect he will play very well against the Eagles and then be hurt or extra gangy in all other games. The Redskins will find a way to make this excitement I am feeling into some horrible walking nightmare. They will.