Tuesday August 9th, 2016

The ranking

The SI rank: Beller: No. 27 WR; No. 57 overall |​ Fitz: No. 35 WR, No. 77 overall

The consensus rank: No. 34 WR, No. 74 overall​

The skinny

Washington surprised the football world last season, taking advantage of injuries in Dallas and turmoil in Philadelphia to win the NFC East. Kirk Cousins carried the offense to its best season since Robert Griffin III’s rookie year, but Jackson wasn’t along for the ride. Beset by injuries all year, Jackson played just 10 games and had his worst year since 2012, another season in which he spent significant time on the shelf.

A receiver of Jackson’s build who doesn’t have Marvin Harrison’s artful skill of avoiding tackles is always going to be at a slightly higher risk of injury. When Jackson is healthy, though, he’s one of the more bankable receivers at his price tag. In the two seasons before last year, Jackson averaged 170.5 fantasy points per season in standard scoring leagues, finishing as WR10 and WR16, respectively. In fact, the only season in which Jackson fell short of expectations was 2011, when Michael Vick turned in a dreadful season and the Eagles went 8–8.

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It’s not hard to see the argument for Jackson as one of the most undervalued receivers heading into the draft season. The ninth-year speedster out of California has never been bound by what would be seen as limitations for other receivers because he has made a career out of regularly cashing in on the big play. Jackson has averaged 17.7 yards per catch over his career, and the only season in which his average catch went for fewer than 15 yards was his first in the league. He has two seasons where he was north of 20 yards per catch, and two more where he surpasses 17 yards on an average grab.

Jackson’s big-play ability is equal parts bankable and unique. There were 20 instances over the last 30 years of a receiver totaling at least 45 receptions at an average of 18 yards per catch of better. Three of those belong to Jackson. Flipper Anderson and Henry Ellard were the only other receivers to do it more than once. Jackson’s not going to catch a ton of passes, which hurts his value in full PPR leagues, but he has a proven track record of turning, say, 60 receptions into 1,100 yards and six touchdowns.

Fantasy owners should be excited about the prospect of a healthy Jackson in Washington's offense. A steady Cousins and healthy Jordan Reed galvanized the Washington passing game last year, even with Jackson out for six games and likely playing less than 100% for most of the other 10. Cousins finished the season 10th in yards, 12th in attempts, eighth in yards per attempt and first in completion percentage. As a whole, Washington’s passing game was 11th in yards and tied for sixth in YPA.

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Little, if anything, should change in how Washington wants to play offensively this season. The team didn’t lose anything important from its passing attack in the off-season, and used the 22nd pick in the draft to grab receiver Josh Doctson out of TCU. The rookie brings size to the table that the receiving corps previously lacked, and his presence should make the overall passing game in Washington more dangerous.

Matt Jones is at the head of one of the most underwhelming running games in the league, at least on paper. Jones was always supposed to wrest the starting job from Alfred Morris last season—at least according to some corners of the fantasy community—but all he did was rack up 144 largely uninspiring carries, totaling 490 yards and three touchdowns. He was admittedly strong as a receiver, catching 19 passes for 304 yards and a score, but that likely had as much to do with the overall effectiveness of Washington’s offense through the air as it did with Jones himself. Behind him on the depth chart are seventh-round selection Keith Marshall and pass-catching specialist Chris Thompson. If you don’t think Cousins is going to throw the ball nearly 600 times this year, you’re probably related to Jones.

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Some aerial attacks—like those in Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Arizona—are obviously wise investments. Washington’s isn’t nearly as strong as those three, but it, too, should be fertile ground for fantasy points. Jackson is one of the few No. 1 receivers unlikely to lead his team in targets. That honor will likely go to Jordan Reed, assuming the previously injury-prone tight end can stay upright for another season. Still, Jackson is one of the most reliable deep threats in the league, and one of the few players in recent memory who has capably leaned almost entirely on getting behind the defense to make his way in the league.

In a typical draft, Jackson is coming off the board after 30 receivers have heard their names called. He has four top-16 finishes among the six seasons in which he has played at least 14 games, including the last two seasons he avoided injury. He plays in a high-volume passing offense, remains one of the most adept receivers at taking the top off a defense and doesn’t turn 30 years old until the first week of December. What’s not to like at his ADP?

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The prediction

Jackson is a known commodity, and he isn’t going to suddenly turn into a different player than the one we’ve watched for eight seasons. That’s completely fine, considering his expected draft-day price. His track record, coupled with the identity of Washington’s offense, makes it safe to project him for 60 receptions and 1,000 yards with anywhere between five and nine touchdowns.

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