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What does DeSean Jackson have left to give in the NFL?

When he’s healthy, he can still play

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Last season, there were only two wide receivers in the NFL who were at least 33 years old and caught at least 50 passes: 33-year-old Emmanuel Sanders had 61 receptions for 726 yards and 37-year-old Larry Fitzgerald had 54 catches for 409 yards.

In 2019, that group would have included Fitzgerald (75 catches, 804 yards), 34-year-old Danny Amendola (62 for 678), and 33-year-old Julian Edelman (10 for 1,117).

In 2018, Fitzgerald (69 for 734), Amendola (59 for 575), and Jordy Nelson (63 for 739) were in the group. In 2017, Fitzgerald was by himself (109 for 1,156), and in 2016, it was Fitzgerald (107 for 1,023), 37-year-old Steve Smith (70 for 799), and 36-year-old Anquan Boldin (67 for 584).

In other words, unless you were a receiver named Larry Fitzgerald, you were probably not a receiver over the age of 33 that was having a productive or active NFL career at the time.

On Sunday, the LA Rams addressed their need for a deep threat next season by signing DeSean Jackson, a wide receiver who turned 34 last December. And as pointed out by millions of original Twitter and Reddit users, injuries have kept Jackson from even being a consistent presence on the field since 2015. Over the last six seasons, Jackson has averaged less than 10 games played per year, with 33 catches for 561 yards and three touchdowns being his average campaign in that time.

During his two-year stint back with the Eagles over these last couple of seasons, Jackson has missed 24 of a possible 32 games, catching 23 of 36 targets for 395 yards and three touchdowns.

Is there much hope for him to rejuvenate his career with an upcoming 35th birthday in December?

One thing that I think is strangely important — and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad — is that Jackson returned twice from injuries last season: after playing in the first three games of the year, Jackson came back to play in Week 7, then again in Week 16, catching an 81-yard touchdown against the Cowboys. That also means he got hurt several times, similar to his 2019 campaign, and this proclivity to return-and-get-hurt no doubt added to the perception that Jackson is injury prone.

Jackson played in Week 1 in 2019, was hurt in Week 2, returned in Week 9 but then immediately got hurt only four snaps into game action. During his final season with the Bucs in 2018, Jackson was injured in Week 12, returned in Week 16, and then was out again in Week 17 with an Achilles injury.

Nobody can speak to the availability of DeSean Jackson next season except to say that recent history suggests that he won’t be 100-percent available. The reason why he hasn’t been quietly shuttled out of the NFL despite his injury history and age though is just as apparent.

During his first seven games in 2018, Jackson caught 26 passes for 594 yards (22.8 YPC) with four touchdowns, plus another touchdown on the ground and he was even helping Tampa Bay out on punt returns again. And during his first game back with Philadelphia in 2019, Jackson caught eight of nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns in a 32-27 win over his old team in Washington.

And even with all of the issues that the Eagles had at quarterback and on offense in 2020, he still showed the type of athleticism and ability that he had in his twenties with his 81-yard touchdown catch from rookie Jalen Hurts. If he had been healthy enough to even play in 12 games, there’s little doubt that Jackson would have been the Eagles number one receiver.

DeSean Jackson in 2020: 14 catches, 26 targets, 236 yards, 16.9 YPC

Kenny Golladay in 2020: 20 catches, 32 targets, 338 yards, 16.9 YPC

I don’t put those players next to each other to suggest that signing Jackson was as valuable a move as the Giants signing Golladay, or close to it, but no 34-year-old is meant to come that close to an $18 million/year receiver in his prime. Even if both are injured and only play in five games.

The biggest difference probably being that Golladay isn’t expected to miss a lot of time next season and people do suspect that about Jackson. The age factor would play into that, but neither age nor injuries has put a stop to Jackson’s career yet and he seems to still have those rare abilities in him when he’s not hurt.

Whether or not he’ll be not-hurt next season is something that can only be debated right now, but getting Jackson on a one-year contract that probably has few, if any guarantees, was a deep bomb worth hurling.