Jackson's Struggles A Concern

The Patriots traded up to draft Chad Jackson in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft with the expectations that he could be their next playmaker. Although expectations for rookies are usually tempered, Jackson's physical talent and his game breaking potential had fans excited to see him play. His performance so far has many wondering if he can live up to expectations.

Many receivers have unfair expectations placed on them when they enter the league because of what they did in college. However, a majority of first-year receivers don't burst upon the scene and catch 80 passes. So far this season, New England fans are finding out Chad Jackson is the rule rather than the exception.

The exceptions have been players such as Terry Glenn, Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin. They were some of the few receivers who entered the NFL and immediately played like veterans. Boldin is probably the best case. He had 101 receptions for 1,377 yards in his first year, both rookie records. While some expected Jackson to make a similar impact with the Patriots, Bill Belichick points out that every player is unique and develops at his own pace.

"You can't put a timetable on young players," Belichick said. "You just can't do it. A lot of it is based on opportunity, a lot of it is based on progression, and there's no set formula for any player at any position."

Jackson was projected to go in the first round of this year's draft but slipped to the Patriots, who traded up to get him with the 36th overall selection. After picking Laurence Maroney in Round 1, many fans and media believed the Patriots came away with two players who had first-round ability.

While Maroney has made an instant impact on the Patriots offense, Jackson has been slower to catch on. The rookie suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of all but three practices during training camp. Jackson also missed the Patriots' four preseason games, along with the season opener against Buffalo.

Heading into the Patriots' matchup with the Lions, people aren't just wondering where Jackson is, some have even gone so far as to throw the "bust" label on him just 11 games into his rookie season.

"I don't know which fans you are talking to out there, but it's probably some of the same ones that said the same thing about Ty Warren three years ago," Belichick replied in early November when asked about his thoughts about the criticism. "So, go back and see what people were saying about Ty Warren."

It's hard to compare Jackson and Warren because they play different positions, although Belichick's comments have merit when comparing Jackson's rookie numbers with those of the best receivers in the NFL today. Steve Smith (10), Plaxico Burress (22), Javon Walker (23) and even Terrell Owens (35) had less than stellar rookie seasons. That's because it takes time for a receiver to pick up an offense and build chemistry with his quarterback, where a running back can just take a handoff and use his instincts.

"You gotta prove yourself," Jackson said. "It's takes time, but I know I'm capable of making a lot of plays. I'm just waiting for my opportunity. I keep going out and working hard, working on my game, and I know good things will come."

After 12 weeks, Jackson is on pace to end up around the 20-catch mark. That's not only significantly lower than what many around New England expected, but other rookie receivers have gotten off to a much faster start. The one receiver selected ahead of him -- the Steelers' Santonio Holmes -- has 32 receptions. Meanwhile, two receivers drafted after the Patriots selected Jackson -- the Packers' Greg Jennings and the Saints' Marques Colston -- have 36 and 54 receptions, respectively. It doesn't help matters that Colston, who was taken in the seventh round by New Orleans, is one of the top candidates to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

While the Patriots wait for Jackson to emerge, the criticism of him continues to grow. The rookie isn't blind to it, he just chooses to ignore it.

"I've gotten a lot of criticism, in Sports Illustrated and the Boston papers," Jackson said. "I don't pay it no mind. I just keep my head up and keep moving forward."

There was once a guy in San Francisco who had trouble hanging onto the football early in his career. That guy's name was Jerry Rice, and he had a pedestrian 49 receptions and three touchdowns during his rookie season. While it's way too early to compare Jackson with Rice, it's also way too early to compare him to David Terrell. However, Jackson had better start seeing more action sooner than later because the criticism will continue to mount until the young receiver gets it done on the football field week in and week out.

 

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