How Will DeSean Jackson Impact the Buccaneers Offense?
On March 9, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $35 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. Per spotrac.com, only seven wide receivers have more guaranteed money on their current contracts or will account for a bigger cap hit in 2017.
When healthy, Jackson has historically been a solid fantasy WR2 -- he’s averaged 13 PPR FP/game over the course of his career, which is the current three-year average for the WR22. Can D-Jax meet, or even exceed, those expectations in Tampa Bay?
A Receiver Unlike Any Other
Every year, there are a few receivers that thrive without huge volume numbers, but Jackson is one of the few receivers in history that has consistently provided fantasy value without filling up the target column. In the seven seasons that Jackson has played at least 14 games, he’s averaged an 18% target share and a PPR finish of WR23. For context, only six receivers in the last five seasons have finished a the WR24 or better with a target share of 18% or lower.
How has DeSean done it? Simply put: Long scores.
Over the course of his career, Jackson has averaged just over 45 yards per touchdown -- the longest of any qualifying player ever recorded1. No active player has caught more 20+ yard touchdowns than Jackson, who has seen 35 of his 45 career scores come from outside the red zone. That big-play ability has resulted in 26.4% of Jackson’s career PPR fantasy points coming on touchdowns from outside the red zone, the third-highest percentage among 119 active players with at least 150 career targets.
Jackson’s skill set is one that we’ve arguably never seen before and gives Tampa Bay a weapon that their passing game is craving.
A Team that Lacks the Long Ball
At first glance, the Buccaneers don’t look like a team desperate for help in the passing game -- since Jameis Winston was drafted, only seven teams have seen a higher percentage of their touchdowns come through the air. The problem for Tampa Bay is that they have had to rely mostly on long drives to get within striking distance to score. Over the last two seasons, just 27.5% of the Buccaneers passing touchdowns have come from outside the red zone and Winston’s average length of touchdown is 16.3 yards, numbers that rank 22nd in the league and 26th out of 34 qualified passers.2
Although Mike Evans is versatile in his ability to find the end zone -- his average length of touchdown is 18.6 yards, he’s converted 29.4% of his red zone targets into scores, and 44% of his career touchdowns have come from outside the red zone -- Tampa Bay is starving for options beyond their number one wide out. Prior to Jackson’s arrival, Cameron Brate was the only player besides Evans on the Bucs’ roster with at least 10 career receiving touchdowns and Brate has never scored from outside the red zone.
At the very least, DeSean will keep defenses from zeroing in on Evans and give Winston the deep threat that he’s been lacking.
Will DeSean Diminish the Value of the Other Bucs Receivers?
As I mentioned earlier, D-Jax doesn’t need to see huge target volume to succeed. In 2016, Evans and Brate combined for 43.7% of team targets. With no other player on the roster locked into a definitive receiving role, there should be plenty of room for Jackson to see the 18%-20% target share that he usually requires to break into the WR2 ranks, even with the addition of rookie tight end O.J. Howard.
The glaring concern is whether or not Jackson will eat into the touchdown upside of any of his teammates. In all likelihood, he won’t.
Brate and Howard, as with most tight ends, aren't going to be primary deep threats, meaning that they will not be competing with Jackson for the same types of scores. One might argue that when DeSean does score from deep, those might be drives that would have turned into red zone opportunities, but those concerns are mild -- just 28% of all drives ever even make it inside the 20, to begin with.
As for Evans, a couple of long scores will probably go to Jackson that would have gone the way of number 13, but Evans was already a touchdown regression candidate. Last season, he accounted for 41.4% of Tampa Bay’s receiving touchdowns, a mark which led the league. However, no player in the last five years has seen a receiving touchdown market share of at least 40% in consecutive seasons.
Because Jackson’s targets will mostly be those that went the mediocre supporting receivers of last season, Evans’ dominant target share should remain largely intact while maintaining the touchdown upside to finish as a WR1 -- Winston has accounted for at least 78% of Tampa Bay’s touchdowns in his first two seasons.
The Bottom Line
As of this writing, DeSean Jackson in being drafted as the WR37 in MFL10 best-ball leagues. Assuming health, this is the epitome of a player being drafted at his floor, and he should be a draft target, especially in leagues that favor upside like a winner-take-all setup. If early drafts are any indication of what his price will be in traditional redraft leagues, the discount will make him a fantastic target as a fantasy WR3 or WR4 with upside.
Jackson’s big-play ability should boost this entire offense without cannibalizing points from other pass catchers and will give a boost to Winston, who already has a QB1 season under his belt.
2. Minimum 15 touchdowns since the beginning of 2015.
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