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DeSean Jackson and Deep Ball Specialists


NFL Week 12 – Our top wide receiver this week was not the top wideout in fantasy scoring, particularly not in PPR leagues. DeSean Jackson only caught three passes against Dallas, but each was a big gain: a 56-yard touchdown in the first quarter, plus 16- and 30-yard catches in the fourth. He also had a pair of chunk plays on defensive pass interference penalties—a 30-yard gain on third-and-6 in the first quarter, a 17-yarder on third-and-8 in the third—but today we’re going to focus on Jackson’s receptions. Because in just three plays, Jackson once again showed something we already knew: catch for catch, he’s one of the best big-play receivers the NFL has ever seen.

Jackson’s trio of receptions produced a total of 102 yards, an average of 34.0 yards apiece. It’s the 12th time in his career he has gained at least 100 yards and a touchdown as a receiver while averaging at least 30.0 yards per catch. That’s third-most all time behind the 13 of Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, the Chargers star from the original AFL, and the 14 of Stanley Morgan, the Patriots Pro Bowler who led the NFL in yards per catch in 1979, 1980, and 1981. No other active player has more than three such games (A.J. Brown, T.Y. Hilton, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling). If you drop that average to 25.0 yards per catch, Jackson has 17 such games, tied with Jerry Rice for second place behind Alworth’s 18; no other active player has more than Hilton, who has seven.

There are simpler ways to point out Jackson’s big-play ability. Since the Eagles drafted him in 2008, he has led the NFL in yards per catch four times: in 2010 with Philadelphia, in 2014 and 2016 with Washington, and in 2018 with Tampa Bay. He’s the active career leader with 17.7 yards per catch (minimum 200 catches). That barely puts him in the top 40 in the career leaderboards, but that’s partly a reflection of the era in which Jackson has played. Only five other players have averaged at least 17.0 yards per catch while playing part of their careers in this century: Devery Henderson, Malcom Floyd, Ashley Lelie, James Jett, and Josh Gordon. (Henderson’s career average of 17.9 is a wee bit higher than even Jackson’s.) Whether it’s due to conservative offensive schemes or defensive game plans focused on taking away the big play—or, most likely, a combination of both—it’s difficult for today’s wide receivers to reel off long catches the way their predecessors did.

We can somewhat account for this by comparing Jackson’s yardage production based on what the average player would have done on the same number of catches. NFL teams this year have a combined 8,117 receptions for a total of 90,052 yards, an average of 11.1 yards per catch. (This includes all players, not just wide receivers.) At that rate, we would expect a player with 12 catches, such as Jackson, to have 133 receiving yards. But Jackson has more than that—a lot more, in fact, with 361. That difference of 228 yards is one of the biggest in the league this year; only Deebo Samuel (+384), Ja’Marr Chase (+351), and Justin Jefferson (+283) have gained more yards than expected based on their total receptions. Run these numbers for every year of Jackson’s career, using the average yards per reception of each season, and you find that he has gained 3,837 yards more than the average player. That noses him ahead of Henry Ellard for fourth place in the all-time rankings.

Most Receiving Yards Over Average, 1960-2021
Name Rec Yds Avg. YOA
James Lofton 764 14,004 18.3 4,419
Jerry Rice 1,549 22,895 14.8 4,375
Randy Moss 982 15,292 15.6 3,994
DeSean Jackson 624 11,017 17.7 3,837
Henry Ellard 814 13,777 16.9 3,819
Stanley Morgan 557 10,716 19.2 3,663
Terrell Owens 1,078 15,934 14.8 3,490
Isaac Bruce 1,024 15,208 14.9 3,363
Julio Jones 869 13,232 15.2 3,275
Calvin Johnson 731 11,619 15.9 3,166

Remember, this is based on the average numbers for all players, not just wide receivers. That lets a handful of wideouts with underwhelming averages but massive volume (Rice, Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce) sneak into the table. Calculating averages based only on wide receivers would knock those guys down the list and elevate players such as Jackson, as well as Don Maynard (18.7 yards per catch, 3,016 yards over average), Harold Jackson (17.9, +2,918), and Paul Warfield (20.1, 2,911).

Regardless, it’s not just Jackson’s long catches that make him special, it’s his long touchdowns. He has now scored 34 touchdowns of 50 or more yards in his career, second only to Rice’s 36. That total includes four punt return touchdowns and one rushing play, but even if we look at receptions only, Jackson is still in second place, though the gap between him and Rice has grown.

Jackson has scored 66 touchdowns in his career, and the average length of those plays is 46.0 yards. That’s the longest of any player with 50-plus touchdowns; 1970s Oilers star Ken Burrough (42.3) and Olympic gold medalist “Bullet” Bob Hayes (41.5) are the only other players over the 40-yard threshold. Jackson’s 58 touchdown catches have averaged 45.2 yards each; Mel Gray (44.6), Burrough (42.8), and Hayes (40.9) are the only other players to top 40 yards in that department. (For the record, Jackson also has four rushing touchdowns in his career, and the average gain on those plays was 30.3 yards.)

What’s most interesting about Jackson is that while his touchdowns are very long, his other catches are not. In baseball terms, he hits a lot of home runs, but not so many doubles or triples. His average gain on non-touchdown catches is 14.8 yards. That ranks 41st among the 141 players with at least 50 touchdown catches in history. When you compare that rate to his 45.2-yard gain on his scoring receptions, Jackson lands almost literally off the charts (click to open a larger image in a new window).

Deep Ball Specialist Graph

That’s Jackson all by his lonesome up at the top there. Many of the players above the line are, like Jackson, small and fast. Jackson is 5-foot-10, as is Tyreek Hill; Hayes was 6 feet even. Meanwhile, many of the players below the line—those whose touchdown catches are relatively short—are either tight ends (Dave Casper, Rob Gronkowski) or big wide receivers who stood at least 6-foot-5 (Gary Collins, Vincent Jackson). There are exceptions to that rule—Elroy Hirsch and Haven Moses were both 6-foot-2—but this chart does separate Jackson and the deep ball specialists from the goal-line threats.

That dangerous but one-dimensional style has made Jackson quite a journeyman in his career. He bounced from Philadelphia to Washington to Tampa Bay and back to Philly in his first 13 seasons. The Rams signed him in the offseason but he asked for his release after seven games due to a lack of playing time. The Raiders signed him just a few weeks ago to replace Henry Ruggs and gave him that playing time—he had 42 offensive snaps on Thanksgiving after never getting more than 22 with the Rams. With Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow as possession receivers, Jackson should get plenty more chances to go long in December as Las Vegas fights for a playoff berth.

 

Quarterbacks

Rk

Player

Team

CP/AT

Yds

TD

INT

Sacks

Total
DYAR

Pass
DYAR

Rush
DYAR

Opp

1.

Derek Carr LV

24/39

373

1

0

3

203

191

12

DAL

Carr gains 47 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. His average pass traveled 11.4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, most of any full-time passer this week, and his averaged completion gained a league-high 9.3 yards after the catch. None of that includes the four DPIs Carr picked up that gained a total of 91 yards. (The Chiefs have only drawn one DPI all year; the Panthers and Saints have drawn two each.) All four of those DPIs came on third down, and they’re the biggest reason Carr led the league in third-down DYAR. Without them, he went 5-of-9 for 50 yards with two conversions and a sack.

2.

Mac Jones NE

23/32

310

2

0

2

134

133

1

TEN

Jones led the league in DYAR on throws to running backs, going 5-of-6 for 66 yards.

3.

Aaron Rodgers GB

28/45

307

2

0

1

118

113

5

LAR

Rodgers threw 10 failed completions, most in the NFL this week.

4.

Teddy Bridgewater DEN

11/18

129

1

0

0

98

85

13

LAC

Bridgewater was the week’s best passer in the red zone, even though he only threw two passes inside the L.A. 20-yard line: a 5-yard completion to Courtland Sutton on third-and-4 and a 1-yard touchdown to Eric Saubert. (It, uh, was not a big day for passing in the red zone.) That’s not even counting his rushing touchdown on second-and-goal from the 11.

5.

Josh Allen BUF

23/28

260

4

2

2

91

66

25

NO

Allen was successful on a league-best 68% of his dropbacks. He led all passers in DYAR on throws to receivers at or behind the line of scrimmage, going 3-of-5 for 37 yards and two touchdowns. He was also first from under center, going 5-of-6 for 74 yards and two scores.

6.

Dak Prescott DAL

32/47

375

2

0

1

84

85

-1

LV

Prescott was the week’s best passer inside the opponents’ 40, going 10-of-13 for 114 yards and two scores. He was also best without a huddle, going 8-of-10 for 149 yards and a touchdown.

7.

Tua Tagovailoa MIA

27/31

230

1

0

2

71

69

2

CAR

Tagovailoa’s average pass traveled a league-low 3.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He did not throw a single deep pass. This may be a tactic to lull defenses to sleep, because Tagovailoa thrashed Carolina when he threw anything resembling a downfield throw. On passes that traveled more than 5 yards downfield, he went 7-of-9 for 130 yards and a touchdown.

8.

Tom Brady TB

25/34

226

1

1

2

57

56

1

IND

Brady did not have a good day on third downs, going 3-of-7 for 10 yards, plus a 9-yard DPI, with only two conversions.

9.

Andy Dalton CHI

24/39

315

1

1

1

56

55

1

DET

Dalton loses 46 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He excelled at the start of drives—within his own 40-yard line, he went 11-of-15 for 179 yards.

10.

Daniel Jones NYG

19/30

202

1

0

1

54

58

-4

PHI

Jones was at his best when throwing down the middle, going 4-of-6 for 50 yards and a touchdown, plus a 4-yard DPI.

11.

Taylor Heinicke WAS

27/35

223

1

1

1

46

52

-6

SEA

12.

Jimmy Garoppolo SF

17/26

230

1

1

2

35

34

0

MIN

Most of Garoppolo’s good throws came on his own side of the 50. In Minnesota territory, he went 6-of-12 for 62 yards with only two first downs (including a touchdown).

Rk

Player

Team

CP/AT

Yds

TD

INT

Sacks

Total
DYAR

Pass
DYAR

Rush
DYAR

Opp

13.

Jared Goff DET

21/25

171

2

0

1

33

33

0

CHI

Goff had serious problems in short yardage. He had eight plays with less than 10 yards to go for a first down and only picked up one conversion, going 6-of-7 for only 13 yards with a sack.

14.

Kirk Cousins MIN

20/32

238

2

1

1

32

32

0

SF

Cousins failed to throw for a first down from inside of his own 25-yard line, going 4-of-7 for 24 yards with an interception.

15.

Carson Wentz IND

27/44

306

3

2

3

31

22

9

TB

Wentz had extreme splits by direction. He was the week’s best passer on throws down the middle (9-of-11 for 167 yards and a touchdown), but worst on throws to the left (7-of-14 for 47 yards with two interceptions).

16.

Joe Burrow CIN

20/24

190

1

1

2

30

19

12

PIT

The Bengals had a boom-and-bust day on screens. On throws to receivers at or behind the line of scrimmage, Burrow went 9-of-10 for 34 yards. Four of those completions gained first downs, including gains of 11, 12, and 12 yards. But one lost 7 yards, one lost 4, and two went for no gain.

17.

Justin Herbert LAC

28/44

303

2

2

3

20

13

8

DEN

Herbert threw a ton of passes against Denver, but only a half-dozen of them went to his left, where he went 4-of-6 for 35 yards and a touchdown.

18.

Russell Wilson SEA

20/31

247

2

0

2

18

17

1

WAS

19.

Trevor Siemian NO

17/29

163

1

1

2

16

15

1

BUF

Siemian gains a league-high 54 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He picked up first downs on two of his first three passes, but by the time he got his third, the Saints were down 24-0 in the third quarter. In between he went 4-of-12 for 31 yards with two sacks. A lot of those yards came on a 10-yard gain on third-and-18.

20.

Matthew Stafford LAR

21/38

302

3

1

2

13

13

0

GB

At halftime, the Rams were down 20-17. By the start of the fourth quarter, that deficit had grown to 36-17, partly because Stafford was the week’s worst passer in the third quarter. He failed to throw for a single first down in those 15 minutes, going 3-of-8 for 18 yards and a pick-six.

21.

Baker Mayfield CLE

18/37

247

1

0

2

1

0

2

BAL

Mayfield’s last pass of the third quarter was a 20-yard touchdown to David Njoku that left Cleveland down 13-10. Then he threw for just one first down in the fourth quarter, going 3-of-9 for 31 yards with a sack.

22.

Matt Ryan ATL

19/29

190

1

1

1

-25

-22

-3

JAX

Ryan loses 46 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He picked up first downs on five of his six throws in the third quarter, completing all six of them for 81 yards. The last was a 12-yard touchdown to Russell Gage that put Atlanta up 21-3 and realistically ended the game.

Rk

Player

Team

CP/AT

Yds

TD

INT

Sacks

Total
DYAR

Pass
DYAR

Rush
DYAR

Opp

23.

Ryan Tannehill TEN

11/21

93

1

1

2

-47

-59

12

NE

Tannehill gains 41 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. His average dropback came with 7.0 yards to go for a first down, least in the league. He threw for only one first down in the second half, going 1-of-8 for 14 yards with an interception and a sack.

24.

Ben Roethlisberger PIT

24/41

263

1

2

3

-75

-75

0

CIN

Roethlisberger was at his worst on first down, going 7-of-14 for 98 yards (41 of them on one play) with a sack-fumble and a pick-six.

25.

P.J. Walker CAR

5/10

87

0

1

4

-80

-80

0

MIA

Walker came into the game with Carolina down 30-10 in the fourth quarter. His average dropback came with 13.3 yards to go for a first down, most in the league. Second-most: Walker’s teammate, Cam Newton, at 12.2 yards. Walker’s average pass traveled 16.0 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, deepest of any qualifier this week; his average completion gained 1.6 yards after the catch, least.

26.

Trevor Lawrence JAX

23/42

228

1

1

1

-97

-110

13

ATL

Lawrence loses a league-high 63 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He was the week’s worst passer on deep balls, going 2-of-15 for 42 yards with an interception.

27.

Zach Wilson NYJ

14/24

145

0

1

4

-121

-131

10

HOU

Wilson had the week’s worst DYAR on throws to running backs, going 2-of-5 for 3 yards with an interception.

28.

Cam Newton CAR

5/21

92

0

2

1

-137

-141

4

MIA

Newton was successful on 14% of his dropbacks, the lowest rate in the league. Second-worst: his teammate, P.J. Walker, at 29%. Newton was the worst passer this week on throws to wide receivers, going 2-of-9 for 68 yards (64 of them on one play) with two interceptions. He did not throw a single pass in Miami territory.

29.

Jalen Hurts PHI

14/30

129

0

3

1

-138

-157

19

NYG

Hurts was at his worst when Philadelphia needed him most. On third/fourth downs, he went 2-of-9 for 32 yards with as many conversions (two) as interceptions, plus a sack. In the red zone, he went 0-for-3 with a pair of interceptions.

30.

Lamar Jackson BAL

20/32

165

1

4

2

-159

-171

11

CLE

Jackson’s average completion gained 2.7 yards after the catch, worst of any starter this week. His first half was cover-your-eyes awful: 10-of-17 for 74 yards with one first down, one sack, and three interceptions. He was the week’s worst passer on throws to tight ends, throwing 10 passes to players at that position and completing as many to his own team (four, for 65 yards and a touchdown) as to Browns defenders.

31.

Tyrod Taylor HOU

17/26

158

2

1

5

-162

-161

-1

NYJ

Taylor loses 55 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. All of his numbers are badly skewed by one terrible play: this interception that was, technically, was thrown to a receiver 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That one play was worth -87 DYAR, the single worst passing play in all of 2021. Because of that one throw, Taylor was the worst passer on throws to receivers at or behind the line of scrimmage (5-of-6 for 13 yards with a terrible interception), or in the first quarter (3-of-6 for 34 yards with a 10-yard DPI, two sacks, and a terrible interception), and from under center (three plays: two sacks and a terrible interception).

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Total)

Rk

Player

Team

Runs

Rush
Yds

Rush
TD

Rec

Rec
Yds

Rec
TD

Total
DYAR

Rush
DYAR

Rec
DYAR

Opp

1.

Leonard Fournette TB

17

100

3

7/8

31

1

67

69

-2

IND

Each of Fournette’s 17 runs gained at least 1 yard. Eight went for first downs, including gains of 11, 12, and 28 yards. And, you know, three scores. Only two of his receptions picked up first downs, but one of those was also a score.

2.

Cordarrelle Patterson ATL

16

108

2

2/3

27

0

57

44

14

JAX

No, this was not the first 100-yard rushing day of Patterson’s career—he ran for 102 yards on only three carries against the St. Louis Rams in 2014. On Sunday, Patterson ran for five first downs against Jacksonville, including four in a row at one point. They came on gains of 7, 11, 12, 19, and 27 yards. Meanwhile, he was stuffed just twice. Both of his receptions also picked up first downs.

3.

Joe Mixon CIN

28

165

2

4/4

-2

0

39

54

-16

PIT

Mixon ran for 11 first downs against Pittsburgh, with gains of 25 and 32 yards, while being stuffed three times—two of which came while the Bengals were up 31-3 in the second half. His two completions were a 5-yard gain on first-and-10 and a 7-yard loss on second-and-10.

4.

Matt Breida BUF

9

26

0

2/2

29

1

33

11

23

NO

On the surface, this was not a great rushing day for Breida—he ran for only one first down while being stuffed three times—but he gains 18 rushing DYAR due to opponent adjustments. His two catches were a 6-yard gain on second-and-9 and a 23-yard touchdown on third-and-10.

5.

J.D. McKissic WAS

7

30

1

5/5

26

1

25

16

9

SEA

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Rushing)

Rk

Player

Team

Runs

Rush
Yds

Rush
TD

Rec

Rec
Yds

Rec
TD

Total
DYAR

Rush
DYAR

Rec
DYAR

Opp

1.

Leonard Fournette TB

17

100

3

7/8

31

1

67

69

-2

IND

2.

Joe Mixon CIN

28

165

2

4/4

-2

0

39

54

-16

PIT

3.

Cordarrelle Patterson ATL

16

108

2

2/3

27

0

57

44

14

JAX

4.

Jonathan Taylor IND

16

83

1

4/5

14

0

22

34

-12

TB

Taylor ran for a half-dozen first downs against Tampa Bay, including four gains of 10 yards or more, while being stuffed three times.

5.

Dontrell Hilliard TEN

12

131

1

1/2

2

0

21

32

-11

NE

Although he lost a fumble, Hilliard was stuffed just once while rushing for four first downs, including a 68-yard touchdown on third-and-3.

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Total)

Rk

Player

Team

Runs

Rush
Yds

Rush
TD

Rec

Rec
Yds

Rec
TD

Total
DYAR

Rush
DYAR

Rec
DYAR

Opp

1.

D’Andre Swift DET

3

0

0

3/3

9

0

-28

-10

-18

CHI

Three runs: 4-yard loss on second-and-6; 4-yard gain on second-and-1; no gain on first-and-10. Three receptions, all of which came on consecutive plays: no gain on first-and-5; 3 yards and a fumble (recovered by Detroit) on second-and-5; 6-yard gain on third-and-2.

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Rushing)

Rk

Player

Team

Runs

Rush
Yds

Rush
TD

Rec

Rec
Yds

Rec
TD

Total
DYAR

Rush
DYAR

Rec
DYAR

Opp

1.

Rex Burkhead HOU

12

27

0

3/3

27

0

-26

-33

8

NYJ

Burkhead loses 11 rushing DYAR due to opponent adjustments. His first carry against the Jets was a 10-yard gain on fourth-and-1; that was his last first down of the day. After that, his longest run gained only 7 yards while he was stuffed three times.

 

Five Best Wide Receivers and Tight Ends by DYAR

Rk

Player

Team

Rec

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

Total
DYAR

Opp

1.

DeSean Jackson LV

3

4

102

34.0

1

66

DAL

2.

Jaylen Waddle MIA

9

10

137

15.2

1

59

CAR

Six of Waddle’s receptions produced first downs, including three third-down conversions and a 57-yard gain on second-and-8.

3.

Tee Higgins CIN

6

8

114

19.0

1

53

PIT

Each of Higgins’ catches gained at least 15 yards and a first down; his longest catch was a 32-yard touchdown.

4.

Davante Adams GB

8

9

104

13.0

0

42

LAR

Five of Adams’ catches produced first downs. That includes three third-down conversions, one of which was a 43-yard gain on third-and-2.

5.

Cooper Kupp LAR

7

10

96

13.7

0

40

GB

Six of Kupp’s catches produced first downs; the other was a 14-yard gain on second-and-15.

 

Worst Wide Receiver or Tight End by DYAR

Rk

Player

Team

Rec

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

Total
DYAR

Opp

1.

Zach Pascal IND

2

7

12

6.0

0

-42

TB

Pascal’s first target resulted in a DPI for a 24-yard gain. His second target resulted in a 9-yard gain and a lost fumble. His third target was a 3-yard gain on first-and-10. His last five targets were all incomplete.





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