In 71 career games with the Eagles, DeSean Jackson has caught 274 passes for 4,785 yards and 23 touchdowns. (AP)
He was supposed to be too small, too slight, too skinny, too short.
DeSean Jackson, now somehow going into his sixth season with the Eagles, has been driven his entire career by critics who doubted his ability to be an every-down NFL wide receiver at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds.
And he’s driven still.
Jackson is a key guy on the rebuilt Eagles, and he spoke Wednesday about his first five NFL seasons, about the legacy he hopes to leave, and about his hunger to be an even bigger part of the offense under Chip Kelly than he was the last couple years under Andy Reid.
“Honestly, always, since I’ve been playing this game, I always wanted to be known as one of the best players that played this position,” Jackson said.
To achieve that, Jackson will need to return to his record-setting Pro Bowl level of play, something that’s eluded him the last couple years.
But five years into his career, Jackson’s accomplishments are eye-opening.
His 274 receptions are the most ever by an Eagle in his first five NFL seasons, and his 4,675 receiving yards are just 23 fewer than Mike Quick had.
But here’s what’s most revealing about Jackson’s first half decade in the NFL: Only two receivers under 180 pounds have put up better numbers in their first five seasons than Jackson. Philly native Marvin Harrison was 413 for 5,554, and Gary Clark was 340 for 5,378.
No little guy ever put up the numbers that Allen Iverson did while he was here, and Jackson’s goal is to make sure no little guy ever puts up the numbers he does.
“To play wide receiver in this league there is something about you that has to be intriguing -- either your size, speed, your hands, your routes,” he said.
“When I look at myself being a 5-10 guy, at the most 170, 175 pounds, just looking back in history I don’t really see any guys of that stature and size that have been able to contribute the way that I have contributed in my first five, six years in this league.
“I think when it’s over and said and done, the more I go out there and do the things I need to do I think I’ll go down in history as one of the smallest guys to play wide receiver to do some great things.”
Instead of just looking at Jackson’s career, let’s look at it in terms of guys his size.
Among receivers below six feet and under 180 pounds, his 17.5 yards per catch is No. 4 in history, behind Mel Gray (18.9), one-time Eagle Carlos Carson (18.1) and long-time Eagle Harold Jackson (17.9).
The only other receivers as small as Jackson to make two Pro Bowls before their 26th birthday are Gary Clark and Lynn Swann.
People like to label him injury-prone, but only eight receivers have started more games than Jackson since he came into the league in 2008.
“All my life I was kind of doubted, people said I was going to be too small and this and that, so that’s what I use to give an edge to myself, to prove people wrong,” he said.
“Definitely not satisfied, still want to go out there and keep adding to the list.”
Jackson said he recently heard a stat that he has the highest yards-per-catch in the NFL since he entered the league. He’s actually No. 2 at 17.5, behind only Vincent Jackson at 18.3, but it’s still an impressive figure.
“Just doing things like that -- that’s something that I live for, not only about myself but being able to go out there and win games and hopefully bring a championship to this city that I think everybody would go crazy over.”
No doubt Jackson’s numbers have declined.
He went from 24 touchdowns his first three years to just six the last two. He went from 18.3 yards per catch his first three years to 16.1 the last two. Most noticeably, he went from 16 touchdowns of 40 yards or more his first three years to just two the last two years as the offense grew predictable and Jackson was limited to fly routes that opposing teams learned how to take away.
But Jackson believes Kelly’s offense will revive him by putting him in more varied roles and sending him out on more varied routes.
“Teams have done a great job of seeing what I’ve done early on in my career in making the big plays and the electrifying plays,” Jackson said. “But now this offense coming in is really going to be able to be a plus in my eyes.”
In other words, don’t just send Jackson deep all the time. Get him the ball in various ways and let him try to make plays with the ball.
Jackson got stale the last couple years under former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and he let his frustration show.
Kelly seems to have a plan for Jackson that could help him return to his Pro Bowl form of 2009 and 2010.
“I think you just have to move DeSean around and kind of psych the defense out and not make it predictable as far as what you’re going to do,” Michael Vick said.
“You move him inside, move him outside, and you go deep whenever you get your opportunities. You don’t just line him up and send him deep all the time. And I think Coach Kelly has a way of getting the ball to him in the right situations and stretching the field with him. …
“He’s got stronger, he’s more confident, and he’s ready to play some good football, so I expect big things out of him this year.”