With Henry Ruggs III gone, the Las Vegas Raiders severely lacked speed on offense. After that was obvious against the New York Giants, the team added wideout DeSean Jackson. While they are both have speed to burn, can Jackson replace what Ruggs was giving the team?
A Much Needed Presence
While the Ruggs situation was tragic on many fronts, it also had massive football implications. A former first-rounder just a year ago, Ruggs was brought to the team to give the offense a facelift. With his 4.27 speed, he instantly gave the team a field stretcher the likes of which they had not had in many years. The early returns were not impressive, but in 2021, the offense was predicated around Ruggs’ speed. As such, when he was no longer on the team, the offense looked drastically different.
Without Ruggs, the wide receiver room does not have any straight-line speed. In an offense built around having the ability to take the top off at any time, this handicapped the group. Against the Giants, quarterback Derek Carr did not have a single completed pass over twenty yards in the air. On top of this, Carr did not seem comfortable throwing anything down the field to anyone but Darren Waller. However, reinforcements are on the way.
They come in the form of veteran wideout DeSean Jackson. At 34 years old, Jackson is in the midst of the fourteenth year of his career. Somewhat of a forgotten man with the Rams, he requested his release, and it was granted. Of course, “DJax” has a resume that precedes him. He is a three-time Pro Bowler who has recorded 1,000+ yards in a season five times and is one of the most exciting players in NFL history. However, what can he offer Vegas the rest of the way?
One thing that Jackson has always had is speed. Dating back to his days at Cal, he ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash. Maybe he’s a tad slower fourteen years later, but not by much. Although he has just eight receptions, he is currently averaging a career-best 27.6 yards per catch. As mentioned previously, this speed is necessary for the way the Raiders want to play offense. Simply, Jackson will make the offense better even by just being on the field. As the fastest player on the Raiders offense, defenses will at least have to respect his ability to take the top off, much as they did with Henry Ruggs.
Look for Jackson’s route tree to be quite limited. He is not being brought in to run slants, hitches, and out routes. The Raiders will let him fly around the field early and often on crossing patterns, deep over routes, go, and posts. That is the type of player he has always been.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) November 9, 2021
There are still limitations
Alas, if you’re expecting Jackson to come in and immediately replace all that Ruggs did, you may want to take a step back. While Ruggs was absurdly fast, he was also so much more. An absurdly talented player after the catch, the Alabama product also ran a full route tree and had no problem catching the ball through contact. Jackson is not a help in these areas. Of course, the Raiders can ask Jackson to run any route they want, but he just doesn’t have the route running abilities of Ruggs.
As such, the Raiders are still missing big portions of their offense. Everyone remembers Ruggs’ 50+ yard touchdowns, but the speed-outs that gave the offense favorable down and distance were huge as well. So while Jackson’s speed gives the Raiders offense an element it badly needs, it is hardly a cure-all. Let’s also remember that Jackson is 34 years old. He is also coming off nagging ankle injuries for the bulk of his 2020 season. Asking him to replace the production and impact of an ascending young player one year removed from being a first-round pick is a lofty task indeed.
When the Silver and Black take the field on Sunday night, they will be a more dynamic team. Anytime you add a player like Jackson, that is the case. However, you’re kidding yourself if you think he can just go play the role of Ruggs and return the Raiders to normalcy. At the same time, that first sentence remains true. Under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football in Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium is going to be ready to explode if Carr can hook up with Jackson deep. That begs the question, will the Raiders even ask Jackson to be Ruggs?
Likely, no, they won’t. So Raiders fans, don’t expect him to be a WR1 like he was in the early 2010s. With all the moving parts around the deal and his overall usage, this is still a great signing for Las Vegas. In the face of a tragic event that cost the team a game-changing young wideout, they took every step to secure a somewhat viable replacement. At this point in the NFL season, that is truly all you can hope for. So while no Jackson is nowhere near Ruggs as a player in 2021, he won’t have to be to make a difference. He just simply has to be available.
*Top Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images