Should DeSean Jackson Return Punts for Philadelphia Eagles This Season?

By Sonny Bryan
DeSean Jackson
Howard Smith- USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles will need to score as many points as possible this upcoming season, and sometimes one dynamic player can make the difference between a win and a loss. That guy for them is DeSean Jackson.

Jackson is an extremely explosive football player who has proven he can take any play to the house. A five yard hitch route can be a 80-yard touchdown when Jackson is on the field, and that is something the Eagles need to see this season. We already know Chip Kelly will use Jackson in creative packages to utilize his speed down field. However, Jackson can also be used at another position in which he has already proven he can change a game on a single snap — returning punts.

The number of punt returns for Jackson steadily decreased since his rookie year in 2008. That’s probably because he has shared his punt returns year in and year out and also because the Eagles defense has gotten worse over the years (less fourth downs, more touchdowns). However, during Jackson’s first three seasons he returned punts for touchdowns and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt. Those are extremely good numbers for a young guy like Jackson.

At the time, Andy Reid didn’t want Jackson to be a full-time returner regardless of his home run ability. He wanted Jackson to play a big role as the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver and be utilized mainly on offense. He also did not want to expose Jackson to injury since Jackson took some pretty big shots when he was returning punts. However, Jackson has the ability to win the Eagles football games on a single play. For instance, The Miracle at the Meadlowlands 2 against the New York Giants should ring a bell for a few folks.

Prior to the 2012 season, the Eagles signed undrafted free agent RB/WR Damaris Johnson  out of Tulsa to try and find another speedy receiver. Johnson proved at the college level that he is a special talent that can make a great play out of nothing. Johnson was able to make the 53-man roster regardless of his size — 5-foot-8 175 pounds — and provided another explosive playmaker to the team. He proved to critics that he can make people miss with his agility and acceleration, which made him comparable to Jackson. Johnson was able to score his first touchdown at the end of the game against the Dallas Cowboys on a 98-yard punt return. So this should tell people that this kid can play a big role on special teams this season.

I believe Johnson can be a solid punt returner in this league, but he doesn’t have that play making ability that Jackson has. Jackson is a very smart and reliable punt returner that knows when to turn on the jets, yet he also knows when to realize a play has failed by going to the ground to avoid injury.

It might not be a good idea to make Jackson a full-time punt returner. So splitting the returns between Jackson and Johnson would be a solid rotation to make special teams a legitimate threat again. Finding ways to get Jackson and Johnson the ball in space will definitely increase the Eagles’ chances of getting into the end zone.

Sonny Bryan is a Philadelphia Eagles writer for Follow him on Twitter @SonnyBryan50

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