**Warning: This article contains opinions**
In the grand scheme of things: no, Darrell Jackson is not better than Javon Walker.
But, as of right now, Darrell Jackson is a better buy and a smaller risk for nearly the exact same production in extremely similar offenses.
I wanted to put our old #2 WR up against what looks to be our new #2 WR. To do so, I'll run through some numbers and discuss where these players are and have been in their careers. The goal here is in hoping to find some proof that that Denver shouldn't have a dropoff in WR production.
The general perception that the Denver Broncos had about a Javon Walker was that it "seemed" like he wanted out and (Walker) didn't think that he was a fit any longer. It's no wonder why. Well, there's the constant (and potential) knee problems. There were the remarks at the end of the season saying that he wanted to leave. How about his belief that he is still a #1 Receiver. Don't discount the emotional toll that the Darrent Williams situation carried with it.
If Denver were to have kept him, the injury risk is abnormally high. The probability that he will create tension in the locker room would be high as well. For a young team desperately scrambling to make the playoffs, these are huge, debilitating problems. Denver also had to have thought that his numbers prior to 2007 would not be duplicated stemming from lingering injuries and his age.
Darrell Jackson enjoyed an extremely productive career with the Seattle Seahawks. He was traded to the 49ers before the 2007 season by Seattle in part to avoid a financial guarantee in 2007. He had some injury concerns, but rebounded successfully each time. The general perception by the 49ers is that he didn't want to wait for the young team to come around. They also believed that his numbers with the Seahawks wouldn't be duplicated and weren't worth the $4 million that he would have been due had they kept him for 2008.
Let's start with Walker's career stats:
*Yellow indicates an injury season (8 or more games missed).
Looking at the hard data, it becomes apparent that Walker has not had much consistency. This is attributed to his oft-injured status. In his two best seasons, he was a deep threat for Green Bay and number 1 Receiver in Denver. In Green Bay, he was a great fit in a vertical passing game. In his first year in Denver, he showed that he could fit into Denver's shorter-passing/West Coast system as well. He excelled during both seasons, but in each case, the following season was marred by injury and malcontent.
Now let's look at Jackson's career stats:
On the other hand, Jackson had been very consistent until faced with a new offense and struggling QB in 2007. He continually put up great numbers per attempt and found the endzone with some level of regularity. Although he was knocked in Seattle for dropped passes, it looks like his Success % is higher than Walker's for the bulk of his career. He was thrown to a lot more than Walker has been throughout his career and generally had better success over the span of his career. He even looks to have a knack for long play, which I'll touch on later in this entry.
Now, in the name of full disclosure, the point of my article is to put these two players on a level playing field and assess whether or not Denver made a good move by a) signing Jackson and b) releasing Walker. I wanted to see what Walker did in a west-coast run-first offense and compare it to what Jackson did in a similar west-coast run-first offense. So, I took Walker's stats from Denver and simply put them up against Jackson's stats in Seattle.
I know that this breakout discounts Walker's seasons in Green Bay, but I think last season proved that numbers can be skewed easily when you play in a vertical pass-first offense and have Brett Favre throwing at you. I'm sure that Greg Jennings and Donald Driver would be happy to tell you what that kind of offensive scheme combined with Favre can do for your season statistics and splits. Moreover, I know that this comparison discounts what Jackson did (or didn't do, for that matter) in San Francisco last season. I think even coach Mike Nolan would tell you that the entire offense and scheme were a disaster (no thanks to Alex Smith) last year. That said, the offense that Denver has run since Javon Walker pulled on a Denver uniform is strikingly similar to the offense that Seattle's been running since MIke Holmgren took the reigns. No, it's not an exact match, but it's the best I can do, and for the purpose of this argument, it's the closest I can get to leveling the playing field.
I wrote an article a month or two ago about Brandon Marshall and I used YAC/Reception as a baseline statistic, which I stand by. However, in a recent chat with ESPN's KC Joyner (the master of all NFL stats and measurement), I asked him what metrics were most important:
Super7 (Denver): KC, I'm a big fan. First, when will SF 2008 be available online/in stores (as opposed to pre-order)? Second, what measurables does Jay Cutler need to improve on to be considered a top flight QB (aside from WINS)? Third, do you think YAC/reception or Total Receiving Yards is a more accurate indication of a receiver's yardage totals?
KC Joyner: SF 2008 should be available around late June or so. Regarding Cutler, his metric play last year was pretty solid. He does have some bad decision work to do but the Broncos issues right now aren't much due to Cutler. For receivers, YAC is important for certain types of receivers but I would still put success percentage and YPA at the top of my list when grading them.
See, I'm a dork. Anyway, going off of what KC uses as his top metrics (Success % and YPA), I wanted to break these two Receivers down.
Jackson's YPA (Yards per attempted catch, or, the WR's total yardage divided by the number of times he was targeted by his QB) is higher than Walker's in similar offenses. So much for Jackson not being a deep threat. It was too much for the chart, but I took career stats from the 2 players for receptions of over 20 and 40 yards, respectively. Walker, per season, is good for 11.4 receptions of 20+ yards and 3.0 receptions of 40+ yards. Jackson has been good for 13.1 receptions of 20+ yards and 3.6 receptions of 40+ yards. That shows that historically, Javon Walker is no more of a deep threat than Darrell Jackson has been. I'm not going to say that Jackson is the same caliber of "big play" receiver as Javon Walker is, because I think Javon Walker, in general, is more dangerous with the ball in his hands than Walker is, but for some reason, the numbers don't reflect that. All in all, there isn't much of a difference between Jackson and Walker in YPA in similar offenses.
Jackson's Success Percentage (the percentage of balls that the Receiver catches that are thrown to him, but does not include passes that are knocked down or thrown out of bounds) is also (surprisingly) 1.9% points higher than Walker's in similar offenses.
Javon Walker had Jake Plummer and a very young Jay Cutler tossing him balls while Jackson had Matt Hasselbeck throwing to him. I don't want to handicap the QB's here, but I stuck the WR's % of YPA stat on the far right. It's not an official stat, but it's my opinion that you can measure a WR's contribution to his own YPA by taking a look at how accountable he is for his own total yards (YPA includes total receiving yards, that number includes the yards that the ball traveled in the air and the yards that the WR gained on his own (or YAC)). The AY/Att is Air Yards per attempt and YAC/Att os the YAC per attempt. The "WR's % of YPA" stat pulls all of the "Air Yards" out of the YPA equation, and tells you what percentage of YPA that the Jackson or Walker was responsible for. I know, it's complicated. All in all, what I'm trying to prove, is that there isn't much of a difference between Jackson and Walker in Success Percentage in similar offenses.
These are KC Joyner's best metrics to evaluate a WR. If you trust his opinion, as I do, you can make a deduction using the numbers I've put together that these two players, in similar offenses, have produced nearly identical averages in Success Percentage and YPA. In similar offenses, these 2 players come out about even.
Now consider that Denver has Jackson on a 1 year contract and are paying him (reportedly) $1.5 Million. Oakland signed Javon Walker to a six-year, $55 million contract that included $16 million in guaranteed money. He could earn up to $27 million over the first three years of the contract. Is Denver smart or Oakland crazy?
All things being equal (or closer to equal), Jackson is BY FAR a better value and a more consistent performer with less downside due to injury; all the while, producing nearly identical statistics in very similar offenses.
Who would you rather have in 2008?