EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 23, 2006

Florida flop or phenom? Pats rookie receiver Jackson immediately under spotlight

On Pro Football

FOXBORO - Every time he explodes off the line of scrimmage, cuts across the middle or leaps to make a catch, Chad Jackson carries his new boss's reputation with him.

As Training Camp 2006 opens on Friday here at Gillette Stadium, Bill Belichick - by his frugal offseason maneuvering - will have New England's football faithful scrutinizing Jackson on every snap.

With David Givens and Tim Dwight gone in free agency, Bethel Johnson jettisoned to New Orleans, Troy Brown elegantly sauntering toward retirement and Deion Branch seething in isolation without a new contract, pickings are slim at the wide receiver spot right now.

Jackson, if he has the goods, strides into one of the most lucrative situations in the National Football League.

He's got one of the best deliverers of the football - Tom Brady - to work with.

And Jackson, without a real practice under his belt, already stands atop the receiver depth chart.

It may state that Branch and free-agent pickup Reche Caldwell project as starters at www.patriots.com right now. Few expect Branch to show up on Route 1, at least for a while, and Caldwell's resume, with a grand total of 14 starts in four pro seasons, doesn't exactly ring out with confidence.

Jackson, the 10th University of Florida receiver chosen in the top three rounds of the NFL Draft since 1997 is, at least for now, shying away from any speculation on his production.

"I'm not expecting anything right now," he said. "I'm not expecting to take any spots or any positions or anything like that. I just want to contribute as much as I can."

But Belichick's actions demand more.

First, the team didn't even seriously attempt a bid at Givens, now a Tennessee Titan with a $25 million deal in hand.

Second, there was only a tepid dip into the free-agent pool, yielding Caldwell, a No. 3 receiver at his best in San Diego.

Then there were the draft day machinations, in which the coach forced Denver's hand on free-agent Javon Walker then brilliantly slid up the board in the second round, one pick in front of Mike Shanahan to land Jackson at the 36th overall choice.

Jackson has done little to dispel the ideas that he is the man to pick up the receiving slack, albeit without shoulder pads.

He came into the offseason early and has been meticulous in his participation.

During last month's mini-camp, the 6-foot-1, 202-pounder caught anything thrown his way.

Of course, that was half-speed, with no defenders looking to knock his block off.

The speed won't be a question, as Jackson sizzled in offseason workouts, blazing the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds.

But how he handles live defense will only be found right now in Jackson's heart and then later this week when practice opens.

Finally, Jackson must answer to the rapidly tumbling reputation of Florida receivers.

Of those other nine Gator draftees in the last decade, only Seattle's Darrell Jackson has hinted at stardom, fighting off a case of the drops to post a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the reigning NFC champs.

The names Reidel Anthony, Travis Taylor, Jabar Gaffney, Jacquez Green and others have done in many a fan's fantasy team over the past few years, let alone emaciate their team's chances by severely underachieving.

"What makes me different is I'm a guy that works hard," said Jackson, who also happens to be bigger in stature than most of his predecessors. "You can talk to all of my old coaches. They will tell you that I'm a hard worker. I have great character, and I am willing to do what it takes to go out there and win."

Ex-Gators drop the ball

New England Patriots second-round choice Chad Jackson is the 10th University of Florida receiver to be taken in the top three rounds of the NFL Draft since 1997.

The impact of the first nine has been minimal. With training camp opening in Foxboro this week, all eyes will be on Jackson, especially if leading pass-catcher Deion Branch holds out as expected. Here's a look at the Florida receivers and how they have fared:

Year%Round%Overall pick%Player%Team%Comment

1997%1%7%Ike Hilliard%NY Giants%Still in NFL with Tampa after 10 workman-like seasons in NY; 28 career TD catches; best season 72 catches for 996 yards in 1999; averages 45-545 for career.

1997%1%16%Reidel Anthony%Tampa%Career high of 51 catches for 708 yards and 7 TDs in 1998; four-year pro; hasn't played an NFL game since 2001.

1998%2%34%Jacquez Green%Tampa%five-season career ended in 2002; never eclipsed 800 yard receiving mark; seven total touchdowns.

1999%3%93%Travis McGriff%Denver%The biggest bust in the bunch; five catches in three pro seasons; tasted end zone once; out of football by 2002.

2000%1%10%Travis Taylor%Baltimore%Has started 74 games in six seasons; averages 42 catches for 560 yards; 19 career TD catches; topped out in 2002 with 61-869 with 6 TDs; now a Viking.

2000%3%80%Darrell Jackson%Seattle%The only Pro-Bowler of the 10; five-year starter for Seahawks; career-best 87 catches for 1,199 yards in 2004, his second 1,000-yard season; a proven professional; best of the 10; West Coast version of Deion Branch.

2002%2%33%Jabar Gaffney%Houston%Now in Philly after four quiet seasons with Texans, averaging 43 catches for 502 yards; has seven total TD catches

2002%2%48%Reche Caldwell%San Diego%Top veteran to replace David Givens in Pats' starting lineup; a career No. 3 receiver; too slow and too inconsistent for Chargers; has 14 starts on his pro resume.

2003%2%44%Taylor Jacobs%Washington%Can't crack Redskins' rotation; averaging 10 catches and 103 yards a season; one pro TD catch; journeyman at best.

2006%2%36%Chad Jackson%New England%Bigger than most at 6-foot-1, 202 pounds; more seasoned than most Gator products; versatility might set him apart.