The New League Year is here!
To celebrate, Howie Roseman gifted the Eagles with two huge additions to the roster, one on each side of the ball. On Wednesday morning, the team officially announced the signing of defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who has been a force since entering the league and is one of the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in the league. Jackson was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who spent a first-round pick a year ago on a defensive tackle and felt the need to get him more reps. Their loss is the Eagles’ gain. Jackson is a tone-setter up front.
On offense, the city is abuzz with the return of DeSean Jackson, who the Eagles acquired in a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. D-Jax provides the Eagles with a proven deep threat on the outside, and his speed is still top-notch when compared to the rest of the NFL.
DeSean is an explosive playmaker, that much we know. He’s proven it time and again. However, his game is about more than just speed. His ability to track the deep ball made him special during his first stint in Philadelphia. No matter who was throwing him the football, Jackson was outstanding at tracking the pass over his shoulder and reeling it in deep down the field. I’ve continued to study him throughout his career both in Washington and in Tampa Bay, and you know one thing that has stood out? DeSean has significantly improved as a route runner.
Whether he’s attacking the leverage of the corner to get the defender's hips turned down the field or just flying through a speed cut at top gear, Jackson has displayed an impressive ability to create his own separation through more than just his physical gifts. He’s become more of a technician as a route runner, a trait that will serve him well as he continues to progress in his career. With his speed still being a factor that corners must respect, Jackson consistently toys with defenders at the second and third level to create space to work in the passing game. This stood out to me while watching him before the Eagles faced the Bucs in Week 2, and it stood out to me while watching all of his targets from the 2018 season.
Getting back to his speed though, this makes him a weapon with the ball in his hands, and that shows up on film.
With Jackson’s speed, he can sprint away from defenders when he gets the ball on the run which turns solid chunks of yards into big plays and big plays into huge plays. His speed is a tremendous asset and a big part of the value he brings to the Eagles.
As I discussed on this week’s Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast with Dan Orlovsky this week, the impact of DeSean Jackson will be felt across the scope of the entire Eagles offense. Whether the Eagles are in three- or two-receiver sets, opponents must account for Jackson’s speed. When the Eagles are in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight end, two wide receiver) sets, how are you going to match up as a defense? Do you go with your base defense? The threat of the athletic tight ends hurting you in the passing game is real. Want to go lighter to defend the pass? They can run on you from those sets as well, and all the while you have to be worried about the deep threat in Jackson, who will help create room for everything else in the short and intermediate areas of the field. This is a perfect marriage between player and team, and fans have every reason to be excited about the move.
Now on to Malik Jackson, who met with the media on Wednesday afternoon. This is a player who I’ve been a huge fan of since his days at the University of Tennessee. Jackson was one of my favorites in the 2012 NFL Draft (the same draft class as Fletcher Cox) because of his quickness, versatility, and play personality. He's an athletic, violent player who Philadelphia will love.
Let’s start with him as a pass rusher. Jackson can impact the quarterback regardless of where he lines up along the defensive line. He’s been doing it ever since he entered the league. He wins with his snap anticipation, quickness, length, and technique as a rusher. He is a problem for opposing offenses whether he’s facing tackles, guards, or centers.
A big part of playing up front is stopping the run, and this is something that Jackson has always done well too. His play personality also comes through in the ground game, but I’ll let you watch these clips and then I’ll give one final thought of him in the run game.
There are five plays in the series above.
On the first one, Jackson flies upfield as a one-gap player, penetrate into the backfield, and nearly get a safety against Saquon Barkley.
On the second and third plays, Jackson operates as more of a two-gap player, standing up the offensive lineman, locking him out, reading the back, and following him to the football.
On the fourth and fifth plays, Jackson charges from the back side as a pursuit player and making the play.
Plays two and three? He won’t be doing much of that here in Philly. At least not how the play is drawn up. He is going to be asked to fly upfield and wreak havoc alongside Fletcher Cox, using snap anticipation and first-step quickness to get to his landmark behind the line of scrimmage and disrupt the action. That will be his goal. He will be cut loose in this scheme, and it will be a lot of fun to watch.
Jackson is a player who can consistently win one-on-one in the run and the pass game. That becomes a problem when you put him next to Cox. You can’t double team both guys, certainly not all the time. So, whether Cox is drawing the doubles or if Jackson is, the other will be free to make plays in their one-on-one matchup. That’s the impact he has on this defense.
Lastly, I just want you to see how he fits in here with the Eagles' defense. Jackson is a high-motor guy. How often have we seen plays just like this from Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Derek Barnett and the rest of the Eagles' defensive line? This is a standard that is set by the culture in that locker room, and Jackson fits right in.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.