Something to prove: DeSean Jackson

We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: Receiver DeSean Jackson.

Why he has something to prove: Unless you missed the offseason you’ll probably know the answer. Anytime a team releases you, regardless of the reasons, it’s going to result in a chip on your shoulder. Or, at least, it should. For Jackson, it’s not about his ability. His career is proof that he’s a playmaker. The question surrounds other issues that will take time for him to prove they were either wrong or accurate. Does he handle himself like a professional? Is he good in the locker room? Those sorts of things. Those take time to unveil and they can’t be underestimated. It was a knock on him in Philadelphia, even before his release and the subsequent stories. But one thing that stands out with Jackson is loyalty, as this ESPN the Magazine article spells out once again. The Redskins embraced him immediately (quarterback Robert Griffin III has made it a point to get to know him, wanting to understand Jackson and his motivation better. Griffin gets him, especially his feelings toward his late father.) If that matters to Jackson then he’ll reward his new team with good behavior. He signed a three-year deal but the Redskins can cut him after two years with a cap savings. It would be a bad look for him if that happened. At that point he’d be an aging fast receiver who was cut by two teams in three years. But if he handles himself right, in three years he’ll remain a valuable commodity. Then? Cha-ching.

What he must do: Be himself on the field and a non-issue in the locker room. Handle your business; be on time, etc. Jackson is not a perfect receiver; he’s not much of a blocker, which will hurt in the outside zone run game. But anyone who thinks he’s not dangerous hasn’t watched him. Jackson has a knack for creating several yards of separation for a couple reasons. One, he’s quick in and out of cuts. But, more importantly, defensive backs have to – have to – be concerned with his deep speed. So comebacks and hitches work well. And if you sit on those, he’ll go deep. If you’re a safety or corner who does not turn well, you’ll be exposed. You have to honor his fakes because if not he’ll burn you. There are ways to handle him and good, physical corners have had success. Again, he has flaws and a way he can be contained. But even in those games he’s capable of one huge play that makes a difference (see: Redskins/Eagles, Monday Night Football, 2010, Landover, Maryland). It’ll take him longer to prove himself in the locker room because there are so many situations to go through. How he handles a tough game; a tough stretch; not getting enough passes. The Redskins’ leadership also has to guide him properly – that means players such as safety Ryan Clark, unafraid to speak truth, and corner DeAngelo Hall and Griffin. And it could (will?) provide a good test for a first-time head coach in Jay Gruden and the organization.

Projection: Obviously Jackson will start. The question is, who will get the bulk of the passes? My feeling, still, is that Pierre Garcon will be the volume guy. Before last season’s 82 catches, Jackson’s career high in receptions was 62. If Jackson catches between 60-70 passes, he will be impactful – don’t forget, there’s a trickle-down effect with his presence. Though Jackson was considered a risky pickup, it’s not as if he ruined the Eagles. During his six seasons, they made the playoffs four times, ranked in the top 10 in points scored five times and in the top 10 in total yards four times. The Eagles took a risk on him and were rewarded for a while.