Chip Kelly’s offense and how it will transition to the NFL is one of the great questions of our time. How much will he use spread formations? And will his offense use at least five donkeys? We’ll have answers soon enough. Patience, friends.
But one question involving DeSean Jackson surfaced through, um, DeSean Jackson earlier this offseason: will he become De’Anthony Thomas?
For those who spend only one day of their weekends in the fall planted on a padded surface of some kind and you therefore don’t consume much college football on Saturdays, Thomas was a hybrid offensive player for Kelly at the University of Oregon. Officially, he was a running back, as he was given 92 carries which led to 701 yards (7.6 YPC) and 11 touchdowns. But he was also often used as a receiver, sometimes lining up in the slot. He was typically given the ball on intermediate throws that gave him a chance to create in space, which translated into 45 catches, 445 receiving yards, and five scores through the air.
That’s a nice round total of 1,148 all-purpose yards. In late January during Super Bowl week when Jackson was asked about his role in Kelly’s offense, he specifically referenced Thomas, saying that he expected to be used in a similar fashion. They’re bros, after all:
“He’s like a little brother to me. I actually talked to him. He was passing on information to me, like I’m going to be pumped up and psyched to be in that offense. It just keeps defenses off guard any time you go in motion, fake play-action, go down the field. There’s just so many things you can do.”
Jackson can do the catching part, and the being shifty in space on intermediate throws part. He is, after all, a punt returner too, and he’s thus rather skilled at making tacklers miss in the open field. But can that skill be used out of the backfield with any consistency?
Kelly himself has an answer for that. In short, no. In longer, dear god no.
“I think [Thomas and Jackson] are both similar in size and are fast, but DeSean is a wide receiver and De’Anthony is a running back,” Kelly said.
“When we got De’Anthony, we looked at some of his traits and thought it was beneficial to get him involved [as a wide receiver] because we had [running backs] LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner [and were asking], how do we get them on the field at the same time.”
“DeSean’s kind of a wide receiver/running back, but I don’t know if he has those qualities of a [running back]. De’Anthony has been a running back his entire life, and my understanding is DeSean has been a receiver his entire life. So they are not similar from that standpoint.”
Very little would surprise me with Kelly’s pro offense once it’s finally unveiled, as he was one of college football’s leading offensive masterminds, and he’ll surely bring that same creativity to Philadelphia. But as much as it would make for great fantasy fun to have Jackson in a sort of Randall Cobb-ish role just much heavier with about 30 carries on the season, that feels outlandish, because it is. Jackson is diminutive, and he’s struggled enough with injuries. He’s played only one full season over his five pro years, missing a total of nine games.
LeSean McCoy is a running back, and he can double just fine as a receiver and a hybrid weapon for Kelly. If he seeks more trickery, Kelly can also look to newly signed James Casey, who came over from Houston where he was used mostly as a tight end, but he also sporadically lined up the backfield.