In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, it's wideouts, with Cal's DeSean Jackson next in line.
With every kick return Devin Hester or Yamon Figurs took back for a touchdown last season, Cal's DeSean Jackson could hear his draft value rise through the rounds.
But, it is the former Golden Bear's ability as a receiver that makes him a first-round talent instead of a second- (Hester) or third-rounder (Figurs).
"I consider myself a receiver first," Jackson said last month at the NFL Combine. "That's just an exception I can bring to a football team, the ability to return kicks and punt returns and just bring an electrifying air to the game."
Jackson finished a stellar collegiate career two shy of the NCAA record of eight punt returns for scores. A quick check of YouTube can attest to how "electrifying" the atmosphere is when he steps on the field.
Jackson's exploits on special teams were even honored with the inaugural Randy Moss Award as the nation's top return man after he led the nation with an 18.2-yard average and four touchdowns on 25 punt returns in 2006.
Upon further examination of YouTube, it is easy to see how Jackson can change a game on offense. There are plenty of highlight videos with the wideout making grabs in traffic over the middle, juking cornerbacks to get free deep and escaping tacklers on his way to the goal line.
During that same 2006 sophomore campaign, Jackson hauled in 59 catches for a career-high 1,060 yards and nine scores. Last year, he had 65 receptions for 762 yards and six touchdowns despite a lingering thumb injury that occurred in the season opener.
Still, questions about his size linger. An NFL team looking for a big, burly wideout might pass on Jackson, because at a diminutive 5-foot-9, 167 pounds, he leaves much to be desired in the size department.
Jackson hopes that a team at the top will want a game-breaker and look past his stature.
"If there's something I have to work on, I feel I could improve on and get stronger and put a little bulk to me," said the 21-year-old. "But heart, dedication and my will to be great is something I have."
Jackson erased many questions about his game when he blazed to a 4.35 40-yard dash at the Combine to lead all wideouts.
Speed aside, one of the best things that Jackson may have done for himself is align with Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice. Rice trained Jackson prior to the Combine on the finer points of being a professional, both on and off the field.
"I said it was a great opportunity for me to be able to work out with him," Jackson explained, noting that the pair hooked up when Jackson signed with DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment for representation. "I worked out with him pretty often. Through this whole process I was definitely in the books with him, talking to him, just hanging out with him just trying to pick his mind and do the best things I could do to learn from him."
With Jackson's speed and elusiveness making him a top-notch threat in the coveted return game, the speedster's collegiate exploits definitely make him a first-day pick. Any team would love to have a weapon like Hester, who has 11 career kick returns for touchdowns, or Figurs, who took both a kickoff and punt to the end zone last year.
If Jackson hears his name called in the first round, however, it will be because he is committed to being a receiver first, and then a returner.
"My size is not going to hurt me," he said. "You can put on my film and actually see I play bigger than what I really am."