Last season was a stellar showing for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Most of us probably thought his debut season with the Bucs in 2012 was as good as it got, but he continued to come up with big game after big game as Tampa Bay’s top option again in 2013.
The most impressive part? He did it despite the epic downfall of Josh Freeman, terrible coaching, the loss of running back Doug Martin and having to play with a rookie quarterback.
The one good thing about trying to catch passes from an often erratic and inaccurate Mike Glennon, though, was that the rookie signal caller knew who his top target was. Jackson got targeted more than enough and ending his ninth season in the league with a career high 78 grabs.
Jackson turned those catches into seven scores and topped 1,200 receiving yards for the second straight season, while topping at least 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career.
So, after two straight killer seasons as the lead man in Tampa Bay, what can we expect out of V-Jax in 2014?
First, we need to take a look at everything that goes into figuring his fantasy value. Let’s break all the specifics down as we try to nail down just how much value he has for the upcoming NFL season:
What He Does
Jackson is a beastly presence, towering over most defenders with a massive 6’5”, 230 pound frame. He has the size, catch radius and ball skills to win jump balls on a routine basis, making him a deadly red-zone threat and a big play-maker deep down the field. His quality speed given his brute size makes him a tough guy to track, and gives him a chance at catching and running to extend plays.
He’s not a burner that usually out-runs corners or anything, but he has the physical skill-set to cause major problems and even when he’s held in check he can still go after balls and be a tough cover. After all, he did torch a solid Jets secondary for 158 receiving yards in week one of last year.
From a talent perspective, there isn’t much to knock on Jackson. He gets open, he doesn’t drop the ball too much and he can be effective all over the field.
His Supporting Cast
The cool thing about Jackson is that he crushed it in his first season with the Buccaneers, which actually defeated some odds a bit. He signed a huge contract as a free agent, and generally wide receivers that go sign mega deals with a new team see an adjustment period or simply don’t pan out. Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace are two guys to look at from last year, as is Sidney Rice when he left Minnesota to sign with the Vikings.
That’s a testament to Jackson’s ability talent-wise, as well as how he can just mesh with his quarterback and develop chemistry rather quickly. He did it with Philip Rivers in just two seasons as a raw young receiver, and found a way to do it with an erratic Josh Freeman in 2012.
Despite Freeman torpedoing last year, Jackson still got the job done in the early going, and also maintained a high level of play when Mike Glennon took over.
The good news is V-Jax won’t have to adapt to lesser talent in 2014. Instead, a more competent veteran in Josh McCown is coming into town. McCown is fresh off of an insane season as the Chicago Bears top backup, where he came in and did some spot starts for the often injured Jay Cutler. McCown happened to put up 13 touchdowns to just one pick in 2013, and reunites with new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith to give Tampa Bay a quality presence under center.
McCown has always exhibited the arm strength to go down the field, while he also has the athleticism to get out of jams and keeps plays alive with his legs. In a pretty blunt sense, he’s a less prolific but smarter Josh Freeman. He should be a stable presence for all of Tampa’s passing weapons, but specifically for V-Jax thanks to his experience with Chicago’s big targets last year. McCown worked with some really big-bodied targets in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett last year, and he should be right at home throwing balls to Jackson and some of the other weapons in Tampa Bay.
While having a sound quarterback is clearly key, some added talent around Jackson also should help him out considerably. The Bucs drafted a similarly built receiver in Mike Evans in Texas A&M, traded away a distraction in Mike Williams, signed on serviceable tight end Brandon Myers and drafted another “basketball player type” target in Washington tight end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Tampa Bay made sure they got bigger, stronger and deeper across the board to enhance a shaky passing game, and at least on paper, all of the moves project to help Jackson.
Some suggest Jacksons’ new teammates in the passing game will take away some of his targets, but he’s still the clear cut number one option. McCown is still going to look to him a ton, while his year to year receptions totals tell us two things: first, that 78 receptions isn’t a lot for a career high and he could have way more than that and secondly, that he’s done serious damage with far less.
This is a guy who can make huge plays down the field or in the red-zone. Whether he catches 78 passes like he did in 2013 or just 59 like he did in his first full season as a starting receiver with the Chargers in 2008, Jackson has still been a routine producer of a 15+ yards per catch average, as well as 7-9 touchdowns.
Another knock is that touchdown mark, as Jackson has routinely put up 7, 8 or 9 scores, but has never hit that 10+ plateau. That’s true, but he’s still been very close and there’s always that old adage to fall back on: there’s a first time for everything.
Overall Value and ADP
Now that we’ve gotten through all of the details, it’s time for the nitty gritty. Can Jackson continue to be dominant despite some changes around him?
The short answer is pretty simply, why not?
Jackson’s talent isn’t close to fading, the talent around him should help free him up more and his quarterback is arguably his best since he played with Philip Rivers.
Jackson finished 2013 as the 14th overall fantasy receiver and this year he’s on average being drafted as the 11th overall receiver. Fantasy owners are clearly projecting (or at least hoping) the positive changes push Jackson up a bit, but that ADP (Average Draft Position) is about what you can expect.
After all, we’re talking about an elite talent in a pretty good situation. When it comes to fantasy football, that’s all you can ask for and then you just cross your fingers and hope for the best. With Jackson, it’s fairly possible the best is still yet to come.