Is DeSean Jackson still a great returner?

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
2:01
PM ET

I feel as though, if I polled most of my Philadelphia Eagles fan readers on the question of whether the Eagles would be wiser to sign wide receiver DeSean Jackson or running back LeSean McCoy to a long-term deal, the overwhelming majority would pick McCoy. But Mark Schlereth was asked this question on SportsCenter and he picked Jackson. His rationale is that they have more time to sign McCoy, which is true, but he said something about Jackson that caught my attention.

Mark allows that Jackson acted like "a petulant child" (his words!) at times last year over his contract situation, but he says he still thinks Jackson is "one of the most dynamic receivers in the business and also one of the most dynamic return guys in the business."

With all due respect to Mark, Jackson was neither of those things in 2011, and especially not the second. Jackson returned a career-low 17 punts in 2011 for a career-low average of 6.7 yards per return and no touchdowns. (Remember, no one in our division returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown all season.) It's possible Jackson was holding back on punt returns — even possible that the team was holding him back — due to concerns over injury and his ability to get his long-term contract should an injury occur. But I think the perception of Jackson as a dynamic punt returner is an outdated one.

Jackson returned 50 punts for an average of 8.8 yards per return and one touchdown in his rookie season of 2008. The following year, 2009, is the one that established him as a great punt returner. He returned 29 punts that year for a 15.2-yard average and two touchdowns, and in 2010 he returned 20 for an average of 11.6 yards and one touchdown of which Giants fans couldn't let go until two weeks ago. That's the last punt Jackson has returned for a touchdown, and as you see his total returns and average yards per return are dropping each year.

Whichever team gives Jackson his long-term contract — be it the Eagles, a team to which they trade him or a team with which he signs in free agency — may not want to risk him on punt returns. It's obvious that he can do it, and do it brilliantly. But it's also obvious that he, the Eagles or some combination thereof have been trying to reduce his exposure in that area of the game. So describing Jackson as a dual threat may not exactly be super-accurate anymore.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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