DeSean Jackson was released by the Philadelphia Eagles on February 19th, closing the page on Jackson’s second, and one must assume final, stint with the team that drafted him. His second go with the Eagles was kind of similar to his career overall. Highlight plays, injuries and some controversial moments both on and off the field. It didn’t go the way anybody wanted, but it doesn’t take away from the legendary career Jackson had in the midnight green.
Many might consider legend a strong word to use for Jackson, but I think it is appropriate. He leaves the Eagles third in all-time receiving yards, sixth in receptions and ninth in touchdowns. He also leaves tied first for return touchdowns.
Beyond just his Eagles career, he became one of the greatest deep threats in NFL history and has a solid argument for THE best of all time. He’ll finish his career in the top 50 in all-time yards, with over 10,000. He’s second all-time in 50+ yard touchdowns and he’s tied first in 80+ yard touchdown receptions. Most impressively, he has the most touchdowns of over 60 yards, with 25, finally taking a record away from the vaunted Jerry Rice. Jackson is also still playing, and he clearly has the ability to continue moving up those leaderboards.
Beyond the statistics though, DeSean Jackson was legendary for the unforgettable moments he produced.
A Look Back on the Career of DeSean Jackson With the Eagles
Rookie Sensation (2008)
Starting from when he was drafted in 2008 (he was a late second-rounder, one of the steals of the draft and one of the Eagles best picks ever), DeSean Jackson was electric. His first catch in the NFL was a 47-yard bomb. In his first two games with the Birds, he went over 100 yards, setting a high standard. In fact, he set the record for rookie all-purpose yards in their debut. It also set the standard for his infamous antics, which included dropping the ball at the one-yard line.
He had his first punt return touchdown against divisional rival Washington in Week 5, not only showing his big play ability, but starting a trend of performing spectacularly against the NFC East. He ended his rookie campaign as the rookie leader in receiving yards and going over 1,000 from scrimmage.
A Record-Setting Sophomore Year (2009)
2009 was one of Jackson’s finest. He really showed off his big play ability this year, which earned him his first Pro Bowl (becoming the first player to be selected at two positions) and his only All-Pro selection. Jackson had a whopping eight touchdowns of over 50 yards (tied for most in one year) that year and did it multiple ways, with one long rushing touchdown and two punt returns to go along with five deep scores. He saved his two best games for division rivals, cashing in twice against Washington in Week 7 and another two scores against the New York Giants in Week 14.
Then, of course, we had 2010, which may have been a down year statistically, but was one of the most unforgettable years in Eagles history. We have his 88-yard catch from Michael Vick on the first play against the then-Washington Redskins, which sounded the gong for the Monday Night Massacre. It was one of the prettiest throws you’ll ever see, which also led fans to desire at least one deep shot from a rollout per game for the rest of Jackson’s career. A few weeks later (again in a crucial division matchup), Jackson took a short pass 91 yards to the house to give the Eagles the lead in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys.
And of course, probably the second-greatest play in Eagles’ history — The Miracle at the New Meadowlands — a crazy walk-off punt return (the only play of its kind) to cap off one of the biggest comebacks in Eagles’ history. Who can forget the initial fumble, or the run along the end zone to finish it?
Disappointment and Injuries (2011-12)
2011 and 2012 were rough years for Jackson, with the team and himself plagued by injuries. Even still, he managed to chip in highlight plays, including a 62-yarder against (who else) Washington in 2011 and a 77-yarder against the New Orleans Saints in 2012.
A Career Year? (2013)
The last year in DeSean Jackson’s first run with the Eagles was also his best. He set his career-best in catches and yards, and he tied for his career-most touchdowns. In Chip Kelly’s first year, Jackson seemed to blossom under the fast-paced offense. He scored the Eagles’ first touchdown of the season, in a comeback win over (again) Washington, and then had a nine-catch, 193-yard game (featuring a 61-yarder) the next week against the then-San Diego Chargers. He had a two-score game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was also a part of Nick Foles record-tying seven-touchdown game.
But despite his success, an uncomfortable and untenable relationship seemed to form between Jackson and Kelly. That year’s playoff game against the Saints would be the last one Jackson would play in for Philly. An NJ.com article (that was speculative at best) would come out during the offseason, reporting that the Eagles were uncomfortable with Jackson’s supposed gang ties. Soon after, Jackson was released.
The Non-Eagles Years (2014-18)
DeSean obviously felt slighted by the organization that drafted him, and he chose to stay in the division and join the team that he once tormented in Washington. His first touchdown as a non-Eagle was against them, an 81-yard bomb with a celebration that mimed kicking an eagle. He would go on to score twice more against his former team, both long touchdowns. In total, he scored 26 of his 64 touchdowns against the NFC East, an incredible percentage.
The Second Run (2019-20)
After spending five years away, the prodigal son returned to Philadelphia. He kicked his return off in the most DeSean Jackson way possible: two 50+-yard touchdowns against Washington in Week 1. Jackson and long touchdowns versus the NFC East, name a more iconic duo. With a start like that, it seemed like the sky was the limit for Jackson and the Eagles. Unfortunately, injury again reared its ugly head, limiting Jackson to just 14 more snaps the rest of the season. 2019 ended with Eagles fans lamenting what could have been.
2020 came with delusions of grandeur once more. But Jackson’s season and the team’s hopes were quickly dashed. Jackson was hurt early in a Week 3 game versus the Cincinnati Bengals. When he came back in Week 7, a dirty hit all but ended his Eagles career. But not before one last beautiful send off, a perfect encapsulation of Jackson’s time in the City of Brotherly Love: a long touchdown against an NFC East opponent, which ended with a flamboyant celebration, which may have injured him, and Jackson was not targeted again.
An Ode to DeSean Jackson
What made Jackson special? Of course, his prodigious speed and agility were top class in the NFL. His ability to accelerate was breathtaking, and he often looked like he was gliding out on the field. His open field moves often left defenders swiping at air, and once he was past you, it was over. Perhaps his most important attribute, however, was his uncanny ability to track the ball in the air. We’ve seen plenty of speedsters (many faster than Jackson) fail in the NFL because they lacked this one seemingly simple trait that Jackson was a master at. Even when running full speed, his spatial awareness of the ball, how fast it was traveling and where it would land led to spectacular grabs.
But it wasn’t just his physical gifts that made Jackson one of the most entertaining players in the NFL. It was also the attitude. The swagger, the cocky demeanor, the goofy celebrations, the high steps and backwards trots into the end zone after a long score. Sure, it came with the occasional boneheaded play and taunting penalty, but you took that for his absolutely amazing ability to bust open any game in one play.
No matter what you think of him as an Eagle or a player overall, DeSean Jackson is a player that will be remembered. He didn’t have much success in the playoffs. And he probably won’t be a Hall-of-Famer when it’s all said and done. But Jackson’s moments will be forever enshrined in NFL history. And honestly, that’s who DeSean Jackson was.