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DeSean Jackson: Eagles' little big man

It happened only once during Andy Reid's 14 seasons in Philadelphia and never for an entire season. For a fleeting moment during the Eagles' 2004 run to the Super Bowl, we saw what the combination of size and speed could do at the wide receiver position.

Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. (Ben Margot/AP)
Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. (Ben Margot/AP)Read more

It happened only once during Andy Reid's 14 seasons in Philadelphia and never for an entire season. For a fleeting moment during the Eagles' 2004 run to the Super Bowl, we saw what the combination of size and speed could do at the wide receiver position.

Mega-diva that he was, nobody in the game could match Terrell Owens' talent at that time. He probably would own Mike Quick's single-season team record for receiving yards had it not been for a horse-collar tackle (legal at the time) by Dallas safety Roy Williams that fractured the receiver's right leg in Week 14.

We offer this reminder now because the No. 1 receiver in the NFL is coming to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday when the Eagles play the Detroit Lions in a huge game between 7-5 teams that sit atop their respective divisions. Some people may disagree over the second-best receiver in the league, but the conversation about No. 1 begins and ends with Megatron, the Lions' Calvin Johnson.

"The combination of his size and his speed and explosiveness, I don't think there's anybody like that in this league," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, showing a tinge of receiver envy. "He can just go get the football."

There's certainly nobody like that on the Eagles, and there hasn't been since T.O. ticked off Reid so much that he was sent packing without pay in the middle of the 2005 season. Kelly loves to talk about how bigger is better, but when it comes to his receiving corps, he relies most on the biggest little man in football.

The Eagles' MiniMeg is DeSean Jackson, and at 5-foot-10 - a generous listing of his height - and 175 pounds - a generous listing of his weight - he does things that defy his size. He is one of eight receivers in the league to eclipse 1,000 yards through a dozen games. The average height and weight of the seven others: 6-3 and 220 pounds.

"Pound for pound, he's probably one of the most athletic people in this league," fellow Eagles receiver Jason Avant said after practice Thursday.

Jackson may be the Roy Jones Jr. of the NFL, but there has been debate around these parts in the past about whether his size limits his ability to be a true No. 1 receiver. For the first time in his career, he is being paid like an elite receiver this season and, to his credit, he has more than lived up to his $6.75 million salary.

Next season, Jackson's salary will jump to $10.25 million. Entering this year, that seemed like an absurd amount of money for a smaller receiver who had missed five games because of fractured ribs in 2012. Based on this season's performance, you can justify the salary and his label as a No. 1 receiver.

Kelly, despite a more run-oriented offense than Reid's, or perhaps because of it, has found inventive ways to get Jackson the football on a weekly basis. He needs just two more catches and 135 more yards in the Eagles' final four games to set personal highs in those departments. He needs 389 yards to break the Quick receiving record that T.O. couldn't quite get to in 2004. He's never going to be Calvin Johnson or T.O., but it's fun to wonder how good Jackson might be if he was as big as those guys.

"He'd be a faster version of [Johnson]," Avant said. "I'm not saying he's better than Calvin Johnson or vice-versa, but DeSean can do everything. He's fast, he's quick, he's elusive, and he makes tough catches."

Jackson, 27, doesn't do more with less just in terms of size, either. According to the KFFL website, he has been targeted 95 times this season, which is tied for 24th in the league. The seven other 1,000-yard receivers in the league have been targeted at least 107 times, with the average of the seven being 121 times.

"Calvin is a great receiver," Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said. "He's one of the best receivers in the league, and then you have DeSean, who is a different build, but I think it is amazing what he can do with his body. When that ball is in the air, he feels like he can beat anyone. He feels like he can run a route that will get you to turn your hips, and when he has the ball in his hands he's electric."

The one place you could argue that size matters is in the red zone, because there's nothing quite like having a guy Johnson's size who can win a jump ball in the end zone. Point guards such as Jackson do not win those battles.

According to the website, the 6-5, 236-pound Johnson has been targeted a league-high 23 times in the red zone this season. Jackson has been targeted eight times in the same situations, which is tied with Avant and many others for 43d in the league.

"Sometimes, obviously, there are things that height has to do with it, but there are not many guys who run like DeSean or can catch the ball like DeSean," Kelly said. "What he lacks in height, he makes up for in all the other categories."