By MATT MAIOCCO
DeSean Jackson, like Aaron Rodgers three years earlier, was the people’s choice. Or, he was at least the choice of 49ers fans with an affinity for Cal football. The 49ers passed on Rodgers, a quarterback, in favor of Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. And the 49ers did not select the Cal receiver with either of their top two selections — Nos. 29 and 39 — in the most recent draft. Jackson’s rookie season has gotten off to a remarkable start with the Philadelphia Eagles, who visit Candlestick Park on Sunday in a key game for both 2-3 teams. While injuries have sidelined veteran receivers Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis, Jackson has stepped up with a team-leading 23 catches for 335 yards and one touchdown.
The Eagles selected Jackson with the No. 49 overall pick. “The whole draft is a 50-50 shot, so I would like to tell you that I absolutely knew it,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “I was hoping this is what he would be, and he’s probably done even more than that.” Truth be told, the 49ers did all the homework on Jackson and still never considered him with either of their top two selections. The 49ers took defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer in the first round. Prior to their pick in the second round, the 49ers wrote the names of Texas receiver Limas Sweed and USC offensive lineman Chilo Rachal on two cards. A brief discussion ensued before Rachal was named as the pick.
“At the time, we had a couple other players we felt we — not necessarily needed — but we thought would help us more quickly,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. “We thought he’d (Jackson) fit a specific role, as far as where he’d line up in the slot and all that. That is an important role. We at no time diminished his importance just because of his size, because he is an explosive player.” Jackson said he thought he might remain in the Bay Area after visiting the 49ers prior to the draft. He met with Nolan and offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
“I spent my college career there, so it would have been a cool place to play professional football, but it didn’t happen that way,” Jackson said. “I don’t feel I have to prove anything to the 49ers if they passed up on me. No, I just feel like every team that passed up on me, definitely when I play against them, I just handle my business and take care of what I need to take care of.” Jackson apparently slipped down NFL draft boards seemingly over concerns about his size (5-foot-10, 169 pounds), durability and character. Jackson had shoulder, thigh and thumb injuries that limited his effectiveness in his three-year career for the Golden Bears.
Leading up to the draft, Reid said he spent a lot of time talking to Cal coach Jeff Tedford about off-the-field issues with Jackson. (He was suspended for the first quarter of Cal’s bowl game last year because of a violation of team rules.) “He was very up-front with me on things that he did with DeSean,” Reid said. “He just said there were a couple of things he would do different. And so I took that into consideration, kind of weighed it out, and talked to other people that I knew that knew him and then I didn’t feel it was a problem. “And you know what? He’s been tremendous here, just fit right in with the guys.” But it hasn’t all gone smoothly for Jackson since coming to the Eagles. In a Week 2 game against Dallas, Jackson broke free for a long pass play from quarterback Donovan McNabb. But before Jackson reached the end zone, he inexplicably dropped the ball in his haste to celebrate.
The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but after a video review, the Eagles were allowed to retain possession at the 1-yard line. They scored a touchdown on the next play. “The veteran players got a hold of him before I could get a hold of him,” Reid said. “So they let him know that to make sure he crosses the goal line and not to let that happen again.”
Jackson signed on with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo’s agency, DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment, prior to the draft. Jerry Rice, who works with DeBartolo, became a mentor to Jackson. After that play, he said Rice spoke to him and was supportive. “He could understand I’m just out there having fun and stuff,” Jackson said, “but it wasn’t anything in particular he said.” Then, he laughed, and added, “He’s not going to turn his back on me that easy.”