The Washington Redskins have officially signed DeSean Jackson, the offensive prize/surprise of the offseason, to a three-year, $24 million contract. It is a reasonable deal that contains $16 million guaranteed and doesn't necessarily hold either party into a binding agreement for very long.
After finishing 3-13 last year, the Redskins were in need of help in all areas in order to improve and get back to being competitive in the NFC East. It's really not that hard to imagine them competing for the division title next season because Washington just won it with a healthy Robert Griffin III in 2012, and the East is a ridiculously volatile place. The Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Jackson's former Philadelphia Eagles are all viable bets to win the division next year.
Whether or not Jackson can help Washington get back to the playoffs next year is a discussion for another post, though. Here at the slash-fantasy section of SB Nation we want to know something else: What does signing with the Redskins do for the value of Jackson and the players around him? Let's discuss.
What DeSean Jackson brings
Last season, Jackson had a career-high 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns with the Eagles. It was actually pretty far off from what he normally produces. Over his first five seasons in the NFL he was a pretty consistent fantasy contributor on offense, averaging 55 catches for 957 yards and five touchdowns per season.
He rarely strayed too far away from those numbers.
The most important thing to note, though, and by now everybody knows this, is that Jackson played under Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg for the first five years of his career, and then with Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmer in 2013. It was a pretty drastic change in offensive philosophy, and included the performance of second-year quarterback Nick Foles, which just happened to be one of the best statistical performances by a QB in league history.
The difficult task for any fantasy football evaluator at this point is to be able to separate player from coach and player from player. How much of it was Kelly? How much of it was Jackson? How much of it was Foles? How much of it was the series finale of Breaking Bad? We can't know that right now.
What we do know is that Kelly was considered an "offensive mastermind" at the University of Oregon, and the Eagles finished fourth in scoring the year after finishing 29th in scoring with Reid. However, Philly did finish top-eight in scoring in each of the previous four years.
It wasn't the first time that Jackson played on a really good offense, and we know that he was an important factor on those offenses.
We also know that Jackson has the kind of raw talent that made him the best football player on the field from the moment he started playing pee-wee football. It's the kind of speed and agility that makes receivers the cocksure people that they are because they've been blowing by lesser athletes for most of their lives. Jackson is one of the fastest and most agile that we've ever seen, but others have questioned his work ethic and dedication. Under Kelly, we at least know he managed to make the most of that raw talent, more than any other coach has been able to coax out of him.
Jackson caught a career-high 68.9 percent of his targets last year. After posting catch rates under 60 percent in each of his first three seasons, he's been over that mark in each of the last three. Playing with Griffin hopefully won't be that much different than playing with Foles, and Jackson will stay in the 60-68 percent range.
All told, the Eagles attempted 507 passes between Foles, Michael Vick, and Matt Barkley. That was the sixth-fewest number of pass attempts in the NFL, but Foles was damn efficient, throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Despite the lower number of attempts, Philly got the most out of every throw, with Jackson gaining those career highs and the Eagles finishing tied with the Denver Broncos with the most yards per play in the NFL at 6.3.
Jackson also had the benefit of playing with LeSean McCoy, one of the best threats at running back in the pros.
That's who Jackson was and who he played with last year, but what has he gotten himself into?
What the Redskins bring
Two years ago under head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Washington was the efficient team that won the NFC East. But after Griffin tore his knee up in the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks, the Redskins abandoned their offensive philosophies. Not to mention the fact that their defense was so bad, they found themselves playing catch-up for most games.
Washington attempted 611 passes with Griffin and Kirk Cousins, ninth-most in the NFL. The 'Skins averaged just 5.3 yards per play and were 23rd in scoring. The previous year they were fourth.
What the Redskins do have, when healthy, is a pretty talented core of players. Griffin was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and still has a ton of talent in his arm, even when his legs fail him. He led the NFL in yards per attempt as a rookie (8.1) and had the lowest percentage of interceptions per attempt. It was just a tougher season for him with the bum knee, the lack of having a lead to work with, and letting teams basically know ahead of time, "Yeah, we're throwing for the next 30 minutes."
Washington also had the league leader in catches in 2013, Pierre Garcon, and he managed 113 of those. It was a major difference from his previous four seasons with the Redskins and Indianapolis Colts, when he averaged 57 catches per season. His career high before last year was 70. But Washington's weapons outside of Garcon were absolutely terrible (hence the signing of Jackson) and he received 174 targets; only Andre Johnson (176) had more last season.
He caught 64.9 percent of those for 1,346 yards, with 675 yards after the catch. Many people have called Garcon "overrated" because he had the benefit of playing with Peyton Manning, but that's not fair. Garcon is a really, really talented player. He just hasn't been playing with any other talented receivers. Santana Moss was second on the team among wide receivers in yards last season, catching 42 passes for 452 yards. And yes, Moss played a full 16 games.
Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson have been interesting players over the last couple of years, but have not really panned out at all. Since the Redskins do not have a first-round pick this year because of the deal they made two years ago for Griffin, they must not have felt they were in a position to upgrade at receiver in the draft and also begin to repair one of the worst defenses in the league. Had they been picking second overall in May still, perhaps they would have selected Sammy Watkins and avoided paying Jackson $24 million, but they do not have that selection, so it makes plenty of sense.
What do we know about the Redskins new coaching staff? Unfortunately, not much.
Head coach Jay Gruden, the former offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, has never been in charge of his own team before. Running the offense in Cincinnati for three years, the Bengals improved to 18th in scoring in 2011, to 12th in 2012, and then sixth in 2013. He has worked exclusively with quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. The three have not been separated in their respective NFL positions until now. We also know that Dalton set franchise records for yards and touchdowns last season.
Gruden, a former quarterback, has leaned much more in favor of passing than he has rushing. The Bengals were only 28th in yards per carry last season, and his running game has never finished higher than 18th. That could be bad news for Washington running back Alfred Morris, a player who benefited greatly (it would seem) from the option offense with Griffin. So how much adapting will Gruden do for his talent and vice versa?
With the addition of Jackson, it appears that Gruden is going to lean on the passing game more than Shanahan's regime did. Gruden also promoted Redskins tight end coach Sean McVay to the position of offensive coordinator.
There is talent in Washington for Jackson to work with, and Gruden is likely going to try his hardest to make the most of it. And he'll probably lean toward the passing game. That's good news for Griffin, Jackson, and Garcon. The promotion of McVay could spell an added benefit for tight end Jordan Reed.
The fantasy implications for Jackson
Though he is going to an offense that passed it about 100 more times last season than his previous team did, I can hardly see Jackson's numbers improving. They were already way better than most of what he had done in his first five years with the Eagles, and it's impossible to ignore the changes that were made on the coaching staff. Though A.J. Green has been a beast under Gruden with Cincinnati, Jackson is not A.J. Green.
Green is a 6'4, 205-pound wide receiver prototype.
Jackson is a 5'10, 180-pound wide receiver speedster.
It's obvious that Jackson can be highly productive, because he already has been, but he's more of a tool you use in an offense rather than an engine block you build around. His targets may not even increase due to the fact that he'll now be paired opposite of a guy who was nearly the most-heavily targeted player in the NFL last year.
It would be fair to say that the Redskins will throw it a comparable number of times as they did last year. Given everything we know, 550-600 pass attempts seems reasonable. Overall, I would assume that 120-150 of those will go to Jackson. It also matters how many games he and Garcon play. Jackson has missed at least one game in four of his six seasons. He missed five games in 2012. Garcon missed six games that year.
It's also possible that Jackson will be targeted 100-120 times if Gruden leans heavier on Garcon. That seems like a fair assumption, given their sizes.
Also, I would assume that Jackson will gain roughly 16 yards per catch. His career average is just over 17, and 16.0 is a fair estimate with Gruden, Griffin, and Garcon around him. He's rarely strayed far from this figure, no matter his coach.
If Jackson gets 125 targets and catches 65 percent of them with 16 YPC, his numbers would be:
81 catches for 1,300 yards.
Now, those are really good numbers for Jackson. If he received 100 targets and caught 60 percent of them for 16 YPC, they would come out to:
60 catches for 960 yards.
Small changes can make big differences.
So to be safe, let's average the two out:
70 catches for 1,130 yards. Touchdowns are nearly impossible to predict, but we do know that Garcon or Reed seem like more viable red zone threats than Jackson. He'll get many of his scores on those long, exciting plays.
Those numbers are comparable to what Jackson produced in 2009, when he was fourth among wide receivers receivers in fantasy points. However, he also scored nine touchdowns and added two punt returns for scores, plus the league is even more pass-happy today than it was then. Given a 70/1130/7 TD season without any punt returns, Jackson would probably finish 12th-20th among fantasy receivers.
For that you could spent a low-second- to low-fourth-round pick and be comfortable.
What can Jackson do for other Redskins?
The truth is that it's foolish to assume too much from the benefit of adding a new weapon on offense. Will Jackson take catches and yards away from Garcon, or will he distract the defense away from Garcon and allow him to do even more?
We have no way of knowing that right now.
Additionally, I don't think we can assume that Jackson will necessarily make Griffin's numbers a whole lot better, either. With a gimpy Garcon and little else in 2012, Griffin excelled. With a healthy Garcon in 2013, he passed it more, but the numbers made fantasy owners less enthusiastic.
With the breakout of Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh back in 2011, the Steelers had two wide receivers (along with Mike Wallace) go more than 1,000 yards. Yet Ben Roethlisberger had just 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Without Wallace last year, Big Ben had 28 touchdowns.
Did Andre Johnson do anything for Matt Schaub and Case Keenum last season? The answer, of course, is "YES!" but to the point where he increased their fantasy value enough to make them worthwhile? Nope.
If Griffin's numbers get exponentially better next season, it will mostly be due to the change in coaching staff and offensive philosophy, in addition to his improved health. I believe that Griffin is still one of the top young players in this league, and the addition of Jackson doesn't suck, but I don't think it will change RGIII's fantasy value enough to be measurable. At least not in any way that's predictable. It's just more complicated than that.
But adding a player like Jackson to a team that went 3-13 last year? Not that complicated.