DeSean Jackson comes home to provide Sean McVay, Rams a deep threat

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Sitting adjacent to the Los Angeles Rams' $5 billion home at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood is a city park three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson remembers well.

Growing up in the nearby Crenshaw neighborhood, that park is where Jackson first remembers playing football and it's those childhood memories that flooded back as toured his new home field before signing a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Rams that includes $2.75 million guaranteed.

"SoFi Stadium is where I really started playing football before they even built the stadium," Jackson explained during his first news conference as a Ram. "That area was Darby Park and I used to play at Darby Park as a little kid.

"Being there in [SoFi] stadium, man, and just kind of walking on the grass and just really feeling that atmosphere, it was something intriguing about that just because, that's like a rich blood. It’s just like, 'I've been there when I was a kid, on these fields competing at a young age.'"

Jackson, 34, is preparing for his 14th NFL season and left nothing to the imagination when he explained why he picked the Rams in free agency: It's a chance to reunite with coach Sean McVay, who was his offensive coordinator for three seasons in Washington, return to his hometown and play for a Super Bowl contender.

"I look at it like almost when LeBron went back to Cleveland and won a championship for Cleveland, Ohio," said Jackson, who has also played in Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. "So that's what I'm here for, that's all I'm really worried about."

A question that remains, however, is whether Jackson can rebound from back-to-back, injury-plagued seasons with the Eagles to provide the Rams a deep-threat receiver they lacked last season after trading Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans.

"I'm feeling great, I'm feeling that I'm 100% healthy," said Jackson, who played in eight games the past two seasons because of a core muscle injury in 2019 and an ankle injury last season. "The rehab process has been going very well ... I haven't hit the ground running, crazy yet. Just kind of easing my way back into it, but the process has been great."

In L.A., Jackson teams up with quarterback Matthew Stafford -- who the Rams acquired in blockbuster offseason trade that sent Jared Goff to Detroit -- and receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and second-year pro Van Jefferson.

The speedy Jackson has recorded the most 60-plus-yard touchdowns (24) in NFL history and ranks sixth all-time in yards per reception (17.4).

If healthy, he will provide a boost to an offense that ranked 22nd in efficiency last season and struggled to stretch a defense. The Rams ranked in the bottom-third of several passing categories, which illustrated a lack of a deep threat and McVay's hesitance to call for a play downfield.

Their air yards per target (6.65) ranked 30th in the league, while their yards per reception (10.67) ranked 22nd -- and it was only that high due to the Rams' 5.69 yards-after-catch average, which ranked fifth in the NFL and was powered by Woods' and Kupp's ability to find yardage after the catch.

The Rams' longest touchdown pass last season came on a 56-yard toss from Goff to Woods in a Week 5 rout of Washington -- which accounted for their longest passing play of the season. By comparison, in the 2019 opener with the Eagles, Jackson scored on two touchdown receptions of more than 50 yards.

Jackson's pairing with Stafford, whose longest pass-play last season was 73 yards, will likely prompt McVay to re-open the playbook, similar to when the Rams utilized the deep threat of Sammy Watkins in 2017 and Cooks in 2018 and 2019.

"When you talk about opportunities, you have to call plays that give you an opportunity to be explosive and that's where my contribution is," McVay said. "That you have guys that can do that, that definitely is a benefit."

"His arm is out the world," Jackson said about Stafford. "So, I'm excited too -- I'm going to say, 'I'm going to run far, you just throw it far' and hopefully we can beat everybody."

Jackson appeared to embrace the notion he was signed in L.A. to speed past a defense, but cautioned he should not be characterized as a "one-trick pony."

With McVay in Washington, Jackson said he was used underneath, on screens and quick hitches, while also running deep. In two of their three seasons together, Jackson produced 1,000-plus receiving yard seasons.

In his reunion with McVay, Jackson anticipates he'll be used in a variety of ways.

"It was a great thing because when you hear about DeSean Jackson, you always think about a one-trick pony or you think about him going deep in a vertical threat," Jackson said. "But it's like, 'no, we're going to use him where people don't think that we're going to be utilizing him.'

"For me, that's something that was very intriguing to be able to come back and reemerge with somebody that really knows me."