For DeSean Jackson to have a successful season in 2021, he must overcome the odds for a multitude of reasons. Number one, Jackson will be turning 35 in December, making him one of the oldest skill position players in the NFL. Number two, he must carve out a role for himself in a brand new offense, surrounded by younger players who have all been more productive than him over the last five years. And number three, Jackson must prove that he can stay healthy after missing 13 games in 2019 and 11 games in 2020.
If he can pull that off, then we’ll know for sure that Jackson’s miracle work can stretch far beyond the Meadowlands. Through the first two weeks of training camp, Jackson has been a star attraction for the LA Rams, a favorite target of Matthew Stafford’s, and a much closer version to the player he was in the late aughts and early 2000s with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Stafford’s name has been thrown around for Comeback Player of the Year simply because he’s coming back from having to play for the Detroit Lions. If Jackson can come even close to 1,000 yards, then he needs to be in the heart of that conversation too.
Does that seem possible?
Looking at other receivers from the 2000s, Jackson being healthy and productive at 35 would be a rarity:
- Torry Holt and Chad Johnson retired after their age-33 seasons. Roddy White retired after his age-34 season. Randy Moss retired after his age-33 season, then returned at 35 to catch 28 passes for 434 yards in 16 games with the San Francisco 49ers. Andre Johnson had nine catches for 85 yards in eight games during his age-35 season.
- Marvin Harrison, an all-pro at 34, missed 11 games during his age-35 season. He caught 60 passes for 636 yards when he was 36, then retired. His former Indianapolis Colts teammate Reggie Wayne was a Pro Bowl player at 34, then missed nine games the next year. At 36, Wayne had 64 catches for 779 yards in his final season. Wes Welker had 49 catches for 464 yards at age 33, then signed with the Rams and had 13 catches for 102 yards in eight games before retiring.
- Plaxico Burress was suspended from the league during his age 32 and 33 seasons, then returned at 34 to catch 45 passes for 612 yards with the New York Jets. He played in four games with the Pittsburgh Steelers at age 35, then was finished. Brandon Marshall missed 11 games after he signed with the Giants for his age-33 season, then went to the Seattle Seahawks at 34 and played in seven games, catching 11 passes for 136 yards.
Certainly it’s no surprise that most good players are not as good after turning 34, but there are some exceptions to the rule.
- Terrell Owens caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Dallas Cowboys at age 35, though he needed 140 targets to get there. He had 55 catches for 829 yards with the Buffalo Bills at age 36, then 72 catches for 983 yards and nine touchdowns with the Cincinnati Bengals at age 37. Owens bounced around the league and managed to be somewhat effective in his mid-thirties.
- Derrick Mason had over 1,000 yards at age 34 and age 35, then 802 yards and seven touchdowns at age 36.
- Steve Smith went to the Baltimore Ravens when he turned 35 and he caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards. He played two more seasons with the Ravens and caught 70 passes for 799 yards at age 37.
- Anquan Boldin had 1,062 yards at age 34, then 69 catches for 789 yards and four touchdowns at age 35. Boldin also caught eight touchdowns at age 36, playing one year with Stafford and the Detroit Lions.
- Isaac Bruce had 1,098 yards at age 34, then 55 catches for 733 yards in his final season with the Rams. Bruce had 61 catches for 835 yards with the 49ers at age 36.
We could go on and on with examples and given the current era presence of players like Andrew Whitworth and Tom Brady, who knows what the new normal for age will be in the future. But as easy as it is to find examples of receivers who were finished by the time they turned 33 or 34, it’s also not hard to find examples of ones who had plenty more to give.
So far, it seems like Jackson has plenty to give and that Stafford has plenty to give him.