- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | He might be the most dangerous man in football, and he stands just 5-foot-10 and weighs only 175 pounds.

Most NFL franchises felt DeSean Jackson was too small to be a major factor in the league when he entered the 2008 draft after his junior season at California. Even after the Los Angeles native posted the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.35) and earned the highest overall grade among receivers at the combine, he was the seventh wideout selected in the draft, going to Philadelphia with the 49th pick.

Less than two seasons later, Jackson’s diminutive stature has been dwarfed by his status as arguably the NFL’s ultimate weapon.

“I’ve been hearing I was too small all my life,” Jackson said after a recent practice. “That motivates me to some degree. The bottom line is I might be a little dude, but I’ve got a big heart.”

And a penchant for making big plays.

With six touchdowns covering 50 yards or more this season, the 22-year-old is on pace to break the NFL’s single-season record of eight, shared by Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch (1951) and Chicago’s Devin Hester (2007).

Two of those explosive scores came last month in Philadelphia’s 27-17 victory over the Redskins (3-7) at FedEx Field, when Jackson opened the scoring with a 67-yard end around and completed Philadelphia’s second-quarter onslaught with a 57-yard touchdown reception.

In the four weeks since, Jackson has become more of a focus for a Philadelphia offense without franchise running back Brian Westbrook, who is out for at least one more week after suffering concussions in consecutive starts (Week 7 at Washington and Week 10 at San Diego). The Eagles (6-4) and their blossoming superstar hope to cement their position as a challenger for the NFC East crown when the sputtering Redskins visit Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

“It’s getting to that crucial point in the season,” Jackson said. “We need to take care of our business so we can be straight with the playoff situation and not have to rely on other teams like last year.”

A youth movement has begun in Philadelphia, where quarterback Donovan McNabb is surrounded by Jackson, third-year tight end Brent Celek and rookies LeSean McCoy (running back) and Jeremy Maclin (receiver). Philadelphia has suffered from growing pains with so many young players at the skill positions, not to mention an overhauled offensive line. But McNabb finally seems to be jelling with his young charges. McCoy had a career-high 99 yards rushing last week in Chicago. And Jackson posted and matched career highs in consecutive weeks with eight receptions against San Diego and Chicago.

Jackson’s performance against the Bears was particularly revealing by juxtaposing him with Hester, Chicago’s game-breaker. Like Hester, Jackson is a superb punt returner. While at Cal, Jackson set Pac-10 records for touchdown returns in a season (four) and a career (six). Jackson leads the NFL in yards per punt return (14.9) this season, and his 85-yarder for a touchdown in the opening week at Carolina is the longest of the season. But unlike Hester, Jackson isn’t just an athletically freakish special teamer playing receiver; he’s a natural receiver who also returns punts.

Jackson is one of the fastest players in the game, routinely running 40s in the sub-4.3 range at Cal.

“I had football speed, but DeSean is a true burner,” Hall of Famer Jerry Rice said after working extensively with Jackson before the 2008 draft. “He’s the fastest receiver I have ever seen.”

But Jackson is also solid when it comes to technique.

“A lot of guys in this league have outstanding straight-line speed, and DeSean definitely has that. But what makes him truly special is his quickness and technique,” said Cris Collinsworth, the NBC analyst and former Pro Bowl receiver. “Even though he’s a small guy, he’s so quick that it’s very difficult to jam him [at the line]. And unlike many burners, he doesn’t just lean on his speed. He runs very tight routes. He’s nasty - a total nightmare for defensive coordinators.”

And he’s an absolute dream for such a pass-happy coach as Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, who has come up with a variety of ways to get the ball into Jackson’s hands. For the season, Jackson has 42 receptions for 728 yards and five scores; 297 yards and a score on punt returns; and 125 yards rushing. More than half of that came on the 67-yard end around against the Redskins, but Reid also has lined up Jackson at quarterback in the Wildcat formation (though not since Michael Vick became eligible).

All told, Jackson has 70 touches for 1,150 yards - a 16.4-yard average - and seven touchdowns. His 10 plays of 40 yards or more are nearly double the NFL’s next-highest totals (six each by Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and Minnesota’s Sidney Rice). And his 16 plays of 20 yards or more are tied with Johnson for tops in the league.

“That kid’s explosive,” Reid said. “He’s exciting to watch, and most of all he loves to play the game.”

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