Will Vincent Jackson Emerge As A Stud WR In 2009?

The Chargers are a team who are perpetually in pursuit of a top-level wide receiver.  Since Keenan McCardell in 2005, no receiver has caught more than 59 balls in a season and that came last year when Vincent Jackson showed signs of emerging as that potentially headlining threat.

Since being drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft, he has made slow, but steady progress.  His rookie season was shortened by injuries as he missed the first five games of the year, certainly stunting his growth.  He ultimately played in just eight games, picking up just three catches.

In 2006 he started to become a bigger part of the offense, appearing in all 16 games (and even starting 7).  While he had 27 catches for 453 yards, he did score 6 TD giving us a glimpse of his abilities.

When the team released Keenan McCardell prior to the 2007 and saw Eric Parker go down with an injury, Jackson was thrust into the starting role but was unable to fully emerge as a go to guy.  He did catch 41 balls for 623 yards, but had just 3 TD, falling short of expectations.

Last season, his second full year as a starter, things changed.  While he only had 59 catches, he showed his ability as a big play guy, amassing 1,098 yards and 7 TD.  His 18.6 yards per reception was third behind Bernard Berrian (20.1) and Justin Gage (19.1), for receivers with over 600 yards receiving.

Despite missing some time this preseason with a sprained finger, the growth he has shown the past few seasons shows that he could be on the precipice of fully breaking out.  He has a solid quarterback in Philip Rivers throwing him the ball.  He has little competition atop the depth chart. 

He has a running game, headed by LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles that should force teams to focus on that instead of on him.  I know people want to say that Tomlinson has lost a step and is in for some problems this season but I’m not buying it.  As I’ve been saying for a while (which you can see by reading my comparison of Tomlinson and Matt Forte by clicking here), when a down season consists of over 1,100 yards and 11 TD, I’m not really worried. 

Let’s also not forget about Antonio Gates, one of the most prolific tight ends in history, who forces his own attention in the passing game.  Teams need to account for him, treating him like a wide receiver, meaning double teaming Jackson will be nearly impossible.

The biggest obstacle for Jackson could be finding his way into the end zone.  Gates is going to be the target in the red zone, scoring at least 8 TD for the fifth consecutive season in 2008.  You also have Tomlinson, who had 1 TD through the air, on top of his ground attack.  It was the first season since 2002 that he didn’t score at least 17 TD, and I would expect a rebound in his future.

There are only so many TDs to go around, so he may struggle to even match his total from last season.  I think it’s possible that he does, but I wouldn’t expect him to exceed it, which certainly does limit his value slightly.

While I wouldn’t expect him to suddenly emerge as a 100-reception receiver, further progression would make sense.  As for what I’m projecting him for:

Receiving – 74 receptions, 1,190 yards, 7 TD

Jackson is the perfect high upside guy to take as a #2 WR.  His current ADP is 50.71, so he’s going early in the fifth round.  That seems like a perfect fit and if he is on the board when I’m picking there, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

What do you think of Jackson?  Will he take the next step or will he regress in 2009?

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