The Buccaneers addressed their need for speed at the wide receiver position and landed an explosive return specialist on Saturday by selecting Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson.
The 5-foot-9, 182-pound Jackson has exceptional speed. In fact, he ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.35) of any wide receiver in his draft class.
An All-American second-team selection, Jackson caught 30 passes for 688 yards (22.9 avg.) and eight touchdowns as a senior, including an impressive performance in Appalachian State's upset win over Michigan.
“What we did acquire was some heat – a guy that can really provide speed in the passing game, and a guy that has experience as a returner in both kicks and punts," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Jackson. "It seems as if the big arena doesn’t bother him. This is a confident guy. I think we all saw what he did at Michigan in one of the great upsets in football this past season.”
In 55 games (25 starts), Jackson hauled in 110 passes for 1,846 yards (16.8 avg.) and 17 touchdowns, which ranks fourth in school history.
“He’s a quick-strike guy,” Gruden said. “You see him catch balls down the field and you see him catch quick screens. If he can make one guy miss and find the crease he is capable of hitting it. His special teams [skills] really make him a valuable guy to us because he has the ability to do some things where we have been injured and I don’t know how many different punt and kickoff returners we’ve had in the last few years. He’ll give us some depth at the receiver position while he’s progressing, and he’ll also give us a real kick I think as a return man.”
Most of Jackson's offensive production came from the slot, which could make him a good fit for Gruden's version of the West Coast offense, which often times calls for receivers to run slants.
“I think [being a speedy slot receiver] has done numerous things to help my stock and I just feel like it makes other teams draft nickels and fast corners to guard us in the slot, and I feel like with my size I might not be the tallest thing, but I feel like my work ethic and my speed can make problems for the defense," said Jackson.
The speedy Jackson is also an experienced return specialist. He returned 35 kickoffs for 619 yards (17.7 avg.) and 93 punts for 837 yards (9.0 avg.) and two touchdowns.
“He’s a guy we like," Gruden said of Jackson. "He’s a good kid and he’s very fast. We think he’s going to help us in the return game with punts and kickoffs. That’s an area that at the end of the day accumulates a lot of yardage. We feel we like we got fast. We got a guy that has versatility and we feel we have a good guy to learn from in Joey Galloway. We’re excited to have Dexter.”
Although he's undersized, Jackson believes he'll make a big impact as a return specialist for the Bucs.
“Yes Coach Gruden was just joking with me, 'Don’t get scared to return the balls in the NFL.' I said, ‘Oh no, Coach. I got you. I won’t have you regret this one.’”
The Bucs traded down with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round to select Jackson. Tampa Bay and Jacksonville swapped second-round picks (the 52nd and 58th overall selections, respectively).
Jackson, who excelled at the Div. I-AA level, didn't necessarily expect to be drafted as early as the second round, especially after no wide receivers were taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
“Well really before the season I was told a priority free agent.," said Jackson. "I felt like the Michigan game really helped me. Basically after the Combine my agent was telling me like late-three maybe early-three or late-four, and after my pro day basically me being consistent catching my passes, we had about 15 or 20 scouts there and I caught all my passes and I ran good routes so I answered all those questions. After that it boosted me to late-second to early-three.
“Yeah I started to worry a lot [when no receivers were taken in the first round], because you know my agent told me if eight or nine I was like the 10th receiver on most teams' boards, so if eight or nine go you know what I’m saying then maybe, but then like first round I’m like there’s no way they can take nine or 10 receivers in one round. That was just my observation of the whole thing but its just crazy how it work out for me.”
In addition, the Buccaneers acquired the Jaguars' fifth-round pick (158th overall pick) in the 2008 NFL Draft and Jacksonville's 2009 seventh-round pick.
The Bucs were in need of a wide receiver, particularly one with speed, as Joey Galloway will turn 37 in November and Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton. Maurice Stovall and Paris Warren are considered possession receivers.
“I know that when I came down for my visit to Tampa, Jon Gruden told me that they were looking for a speed receiver to really get them a deep, deep threat guy in the slot receiver because Joey Galloway was aging. So basically Gruden called me on the phone and he was like, ‘Dex, would you like to be a Gru- a Buccaneer?’ I was like, ‘Coach I would love to man.’ I was very overwhelmed. It’s a blessing.”
Jackson, who has the same name as Tampa Bay Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson, but but is not related him, appears to fill the Bucs' need on offense and special teams.
The Buccaneers used their first two draft picks to select Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib and Jackson in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Tampa Bay has four draft picks on Sunday. The team owns one pick in the third and fourth rounds, and two selections in the fifth round.
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