A look at the players opposing teams hate to see with the ball in their hands in the open field.
I believe that DeSean Jackson is the most dangerous player in the NFL right now. He's not the best receiver or the best punt returner -- but his ability to strike from anywhere on the field makes him one of the most potent weapons we've seen in years. Wide receivers such as the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald and the Texans' Andre Johnson are going to make a ton of plays, but Jackson's the type player who only needs a couple of touches to change the course of a game.
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DeSean Jackson has six touchdowns this season that have covered at least 50 yards.
Two weeks ago against the Redskins, Jackson took an end around 67 yards for a touchdown on the Eagles' first possession. Later, he raced through the Skins' secondary for a 57-yard touchdown and then danced an Irish jig in the end zone. With Jackson in the lineup, the Eagles don't have to rely on dinking and dunking the ball down the field. There's not a single player in the league who can cover Jackson one-on-one. The Bucs held him to one catch for 1 yard by using a cornerback and a safety over the top to bracket the second-year receiver.
That opened things up for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to connect with rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for a couple of touchdowns. Last season, he finally hit the rookie wall in December and didn't even register a catch in a Dec. 7 game against the Giants. But he elevated his game during the '08 playoffs and became one of McNabb's favorite targets.
One longtime NFC pro personnel scout told me recently that it's Jackson's ability to stutter-step and then be at full speed within about four strides that separates him from most receivers in the league. Asked recently if he'd coached a weapon as potent as Jackson, Eagles coach Andy Reid referenced Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook. But he quickly returned to Jackson.
"I won't take anything away from [Jackson]," Reid said. "That kid's explosive. He's exciting to watch, and most of all he loves to play the game. He loves to play."
Jackson already has six touchdowns this season of 50 or more yards. If he can score two more times from that distance, he'll tie the record that Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch set in 1951 while with the Los Angeles Rams. He's scored four times through the air, once on a punt return and once on the end around against the Redskins.
Watching him race down the sideline against the Skins was remarkable in that he completely erased the angles that LaRon Landry and DeAngelo Hall had on him. The only fear with Jackson is his slight frame. He's not built to take a heavy pounding -- but he may not have to when you consider that he's normally running wide open behind another team's secondary.
"I'm just being put in some great positions to go out there and, I guess, score over 50 yards," Jackson said after Sunday's game. "But whatever we need to do to make it work, man, that's what we're going to do."
Last Sunday, the Giants trimmed the Eagles' lead to 16-7 late in the first half. It looked like the Giants might finally have gained a little momentum. But on the next play from scrimmage, Jackson sold Giants safety C.C. Brown on a subtle fake to the inside, caught a pass from McNabb and then raced up the field for a 54-yard touchdown. The Giants were completely deflated by the play and never recovered.
Jackson gives the Eagles more margin for error than they've had in years. When a player makes 60-yard touchdowns seem commonplace, it takes pressure off the rest of the offense. I know the Cowboys will probably try to cover Jackson on Sunday with veteran cornerback Terence Newman and then shade one of the safeties to Jackson's side. That's the type of respect the most dangerous player in the game deserves these days.