Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC West [Print without images]

Friday, November 6, 2009
San Diego's Jackson is becoming a receiving star

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

 
  Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI
  Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson has established himself as one of the top weapons in San Diego’s offense.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Nnamdi Asomugha was one of the last Oakland players to leave the visitor’s locker room Sunday after a loss to San Diego. While putting on the finishing touches to his designer outfit, Asomugha discussed the talents of one of the best players on the field that day.

“I really like Vincent Jackson,” Asomugha said. "I just like his game. He plays with a lot of confidence. He knows he’s going to make a play. I think he is on his way [to becoming an elite receiver]. If he continues to work hard, he’ll get there.”

Asomugha’s praise is high. The astute cornerback is probably the best in the NFL and is also a top-flight student of the game.

Jackson has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL this season and the fifth-year veteran is becoming dominant. He gave Oakland fits Sunday, catching seven passes for 103 yards. He had five catches, including a touchdown, on one series.

At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds with excellent speed for a receiver, Jackson can be hard to contain. He can take over games. He is San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers’ favorite target and the two have become one of the best tandems in the NFL. Jackson is superior in both the possession game and in the deep game.

With Jackson’s size, speed and production,  Rivers believes the 26-year old Jackson deserves to be considered one of the game’s brightest receivers.

“He’s as good as there is in my opinion,” Rivers said. “He’s right up there with anybody in the league at going to attack the football down the field … You want to get him as many opportunities as you can.”

Jackson, who has 13 catches for 245 yards in the past two games, is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 664 yards on 37 catches. He has five touchdowns. He has converted first downs on 32 of his receptions. His 86.5 first-down percentage rate is the highest in the NFL among players who have 31 or more catches. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jackson, a second-round pick from tiny Northern Colorado, is fourth in the NFL among receivers with three plays of 40-plus yards. He also does not have a dropped pass this season.

Jackson thrives on being a complete receiver.

“I try to be as dynamic a receiver as I can be,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to be known as just a big guy who is going to go catch the 40-yard bomb. I want to be a third-down guy, a possession guy. I think I had a couple catches on third down the last couple weeks, some slants and stuff like that. They can move me around and put me anywhere and match me up. I think that really helps us out as an offense.”

Jackson’s effect on the offense is wide-ranging. He has become a focal point as the Chargers have become much more of a passing team than a running team. He also has taken pressure off of Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates. Gates is facing a lot more single coverage now that Jackson has exploded.

Opposing teams are noticing Jackson for many reasons. Foremost is that he is a pending free agent. If there isn't a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Jackson will be a restricted free agent. If there is a new CBA, Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent. San Diego has several pending free agents, but Jackson is becoming the team’s biggest free-agent priority.

Whatever happens, Jackson is sure to break the bank. He probably will get a contract north of the six-year, $48 million deal Atlanta’s Roddy White signed in August.

But don’t expect Jackson to talk about his contract push. He doesn’t talk about much.

In an era of the diva receiver, Jackson is a throwback. He doesn’t make waves and he’s known in the organization for his study habits and solid blocking in the running game. He is not Ochocinco or T.O.

Jackson doesn’t feel as if he’s missing anything by straying from the norm of today’s big-talking receiver.

“And I’m OK with that. I enjoy that,” Jackson said. “Staying under the radar is not a problem when we have so many big-name guys on this team and very talented football players. I’m just doing my job, blending in, staying even keel and having fun out there.”