Philadelphia Eagles

Should DeSean Jackson Return Punts in Philadelphia This Year?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 19:  DeSean Jackson #10 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs in the game winning touchdown on a punt return against the New York Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium on December 19, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 15, 2013

Last month, it was deemed by voters at NFL.com that Philadelphia Eagles star DeSean Jackson single-handedly executed the greatest football play of all time. Said play took place against the New York Giants in 2010, when Jackson recovered his own muff and went 65 yards on a game-winning punt return with no time left on the clock. 

Jackson hasn't scored on a punt return since that day, as he's rarely been used on special teams. But with all things seemingly new in Philadelphia right now, something old could become new again under Chip Kelly and Co. 

"Punt return is going to be a big factor," Jackson said earlier this week after fielding punts in practice, according to PhillyMag.com's Sheil Kapadia. "Kind of bring my niche back out there and help that punt return team. Not only that, just go out there and make plays, get that electrifying unit back, to be able to go out there and score touchdowns at any given time."

Jackson returned just a single punt in 2012, and it went for a three-yard loss. In 2011, he had the fourth-lowest average in the league (6.7) among those with at least 16 returns. And even his 2010 average of 11.6 (ninth in the league) was boosted dramatically by that play against the Giants.

Had New York punter Matt Dodge kicked that ball out of bounds per Tom Coughlin's request, Jackson would have posted a pedestrian average of 8.7 that season, scoring zero touchdowns. 

Jackson was at his best as a return man in 2009, when he averaged a league-high 15.2 yards per return while scoring twice. Can he regain that magic four years later? He's confident he can, and it appears he's on the same page as Kelly. 

From Kapadia

"He wanted me to be back there and me wanting to be back there myself," Jackson said, when asked if he approached Kelly with the idea. "I think last year, being able to have Damaris come in here and take on that role helped me out a lot. But at the end of the day too, I still missed a lot of those opportunities where I was able to do things in the past where if it was a 20-yard run, 50-yard run, whatever... if it was a touchdown. I mean those were things that helped the offense out, and you really don't realize it, but they help out a lot."

Jackson is referring to Damaris Johnson, who was Philly's primary punt returner throughout his rookie year in 2012. Johnson did a decent job, averaging 11.2 yards per return and scoring on the third-longest punt return in NFL history...

But outside of that return, Johnson struggled to make things happen. His average on the 25 non-touchdown returns he had was only 7.7, and only one of those returns went beyond 20 yards. 

That's where Jackson could make a difference. DeSean still had two 20-yarders on only 17 returns in 2011, three on 20 in 2010 and a league-high seven on 29 in '09.

Will increased duties in the return game increase Jackson's chances of getting hurt? Of course, but you have to take chances in this league in order to win, and Kelly knows that you have to get the ball in your best players' hands as often as possible. 

At 26, Jackson can handle it.

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