Free-agent scouting report: Eagles WR DeSean Jackson

Posted Feb. 20, 2012 @ 2:52 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Updated, March 1, 3:38 p.m. ET

This is the fourth in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents on March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.

News: The Eagles slapped the franchise tag on Jackson on March 1, but do they want to keep him? Andy Reid, in his season-ending press conference, said, "I will tell you that the last six games, he did a nice job for us. I was proud of him for that. We haven't come to any conclusions on anything, but we're (deciding what to do with Jackson). Again, you saw progress there. You saw a different attitude the last five or six games there." Typically, when Reid talks up a player in a situation such as this — as he has previously with Donovan McNabb and later Kevin Kolb — it means he's about to trade him. Sources have said the Eagles most certainly will explore this option, and it could net them a few mid-round picks. Don't be shocked if the Patriots kick those tires; Reid and Bill Belichick have made a trade nearly every year they have run their respective teams, and the Patriots lack a deep-threat wide receiver.

Notes: Jackson slipped into Round Two in 2008 because of questions about his size and being injury-prone (namely concussions) coming out of Cal. The Eagles actually tabbed DT Trevor Laws two picks prior to making Jackson the 49th selection in the draft, but he provided instant results with 912 receiving yards, 440 punt-return yards and 96 rushing yards as an end-around specialist. Jackson improved in all areas in his second and third seasons, hitting the 1,000-yard receiving mark each season and combining for three punt-return TDs. His 18 combined 40-yard receptions in '09 and '10 show how much of a deep threat Jackson had become in Reid's increasingly vertical offense. But he also sparred with management — and Reid — over his contract situation and was benched for a game this past season for oversleeping and missing a team meeting.

Positives: Jackson has rare speed. He is able to burn most cornerbacks in man coverage and has a flair for making plays downfield, even against coverages designed to stop vertical routes. He has very good short-area quickness and can be hard to tackle in space. Even when he is not catching the ball, Jackson is a difference maker because of the threat he presents on the field. He typically has good hands and excellent field vision, finding cracks in a defense to gain extra yards after the catch.

Negatives: In addition to his frail frame (175 pounds), Jackson is wiry and has had trouble separating from bigger, more physical cornerbacks in press-man coverage. He needs to get a clean release at the line to gear up to top speed and can struggle to keep his stride and high-point passes against taller DBs. Jackson also has sparred with coaches at times and has been called a clubhouse cancer who does not give consistent effort, although he appears to be popular with most of his teammates.

Risk factor: The Eagles might have reached their expiration date with Jackson, although they recognize his value to an offense. Jackson was Michael Vick's top target in Vick's breakout season of 2010, and NFL teams certainly took notice of that. If the Eagles choose to franchise Jackson and trade him, the price might be a few mid-round draft picks — asking for (and getting) a first-rounder in return simply isn't going to happen. The risk with Jackson is high, considering his inconsistent effort and slight size, but his potential impact also is very high on an offense in need of a dose of serious speed.