When Chip Kelly filled the Eagles’ head coaching vacancy, fans and sportswriters all over the country immediately began the comparisons. LeSean McCoy is LaMichael James. Bryce Brown is Kenjon Barner. DeSean Jackson is De’Anthony Thomas. Not so fast.
On the surface, Thomas and Jackson appear to be similar players because they are both really good at one thing: running fast. However, they have very different builds and styles of play, and Eagles fans should not assume that DeSean Jackson will morph into the NFL’s version of the “Black Mamba.”
De’Anthony Thomas was recruited as a running back and corner. While he still has a slight frame for a tailback, Oregon views him primarily as a tailback because unlike DeSean Jackson, he has a thicker body and likes contact. He was forced into a slot receiver role because Oregon had plenty a pair of outstanding tailbacks in LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. Still, Chip Kelly found ways to use him as a running back. He lined Thomas up in the backfield, he ran jet sweeps for him, and lined him up as a kick returner. Thomas succeeded in this role because he combines his world class speed with the decisiveness and power of a running back.
DeSean Jackson does not have running back qualities, and any attempt to use him extensively as a running back will fail. He has a frail build and does his absolute best to avoid contact, making “business decisions” instead of lowering his shoulder for extra yards. After being on the wrong end of two vicious hits that resulted in concussions, Jackson no longer appears comfortable operating in traffic.
Instead, Jackson has been a successful weapon by playing more of a traditional receiver role, not the X-factor type role De’Anthony Thomas carried out to perfection at Oregon. Jackson lines up on the outside of the formation and stretches the field vertically with deep routes. Thomas stretches the defense horizontally with screens, outside zone reads, and jet sweeps.
At Oregon, Chip Kelly used speed to his advantage better than any other coach he faced. He squeezed ridiculous production out of De’Anthony Thomas, and DeSean Jackson could also thrive in his offense. Make no mistake, though. DeSean Jackson is no De’Anthony Thomas clone. In fact, he plays a completely different position. The Jackson-Thomas comparison is a lazy one and fans and sportscasters use it far too often. Don’t fall into the trap.