Chargers' Jackson takes different route to success

SAN DIEGO – If Vincent Jackson's(notes) parents had their way, he'd be on Wall Street, armed with a degree from Columbia University, dressed in a three-piece suit, trading stocks by day and making connections by night.

He would not be getting ready to face the hottest New York production west of Broadway on Sunday when the San Diego Chargers host the New York Jets. Nor would he be building a résumé as the top deep-threat wide receiver in the NFL, or turning down the very business opportunities he once dreamed of having.

You see, Jackson isn't just smart (he earned an academic scholarship to Columbia) and gifted (he's 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and blessed with speed). He's really good looking, too. People magazine, 50 Most Eligible Bachelor-type stuff.

But for every opportunity that agents Jonathan Feinsod and Neil Schwartz try to bring his way, Jackson has a simple answer.

No, thanks.

"I tell those guys all the time, I'm not interested right now," Jackson said with a smile. "Right now, I'm trying to perfect this craft. If I do that, everything else will fall into place. I understand that. You work to a goal."

Some might say that Jackson has achieved that goal during the past two seasons. Jackson is the only receiver in the NFL with at least 50 catches to average more than 17 yards per reception in each of the past two seasons. Only one other receiver (Greg Jennings(notes) of the Green Bay Packers) averaged even 16 yards in both years.

Moreover, Jackson may be the toughest matchup to date for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis(notes), the man who has made the likes of Randy Moss(notes) and Chad Ochocinco(notes) disappear this season. Revis finished second to Packers cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) for the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award this season.

"That's two physical guys going at it," said Dallas Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman(notes), who watched Jackson go off for seven catches and 120 yards in a 20-17 loss to the Chargers in December. "Jackson is a beast and Revis doesn't back down. I like that matchup a lot."

This comes at a time when the norm for top receivers is somewhere around 11 yards a catch. Of the top 10 in receptions this year, only Andre Johnson(notes) of Houston (15.5 yards per) and Roddy White(notes) (13.6) were above 13 yards a catch. Wes Welker(notes) of the New England Patriots, Steve Smith of the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall(notes) and Larry Fitzgerald(notes) of the Arizona Cardinals all averaged between 11 and 11.4 yards per reception.

That's because in the throw-heavy NFL of today, receivers function almost as de facto running backs.

"The concept isn't original, but the fact that you have so many high-level receivers running the short stuff is amazing to me," said one defensive coordinator, whose team prohibits assistant coaches from speaking to the media. "With Welker, you get it. He's really quick, hard to cover underneath, but he doesn't have a lot of deep speed. With how much shotgun, spread-formation stuff that [the Patriots] run, he's the running game. He's not a running back, but the idea is the same.

"But when you see Fitzgerald, Smith and Marshall doing that, it makes you wonder … what happened to the deep threat? What happened is that we [defensive coordinators] are freaked out about giving up a deep play that those guys have to take the short stuff."

Jackson is the exception, a big, faster and physical receiver who has taken advantage of San Diego's vertical passing attack. That said, Jackson really wasn't supposed to be here.

During his days in high school in Colorado Springs, Colo., he was selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door-to-door, seemingly on the path to a career in business.

"He was personable, really pretty good at it for being in high school," said Terrence Jackson, Vincent's father. "We thought that was the way he was going to go."

Jackson led the Chargers with 1,167 receiving yards.
(Donald Miralle/Getty)

It seemed all but a lock. With a free ticket to Columbia and the Ivy League, a business path seemed obvious. Furthermore, Jackson was only 6-foot in high school. He was a good player, but not exactly special.

"I had a few offers, but no big schools. Columbia sounded great and that was pretty tempting, but I wanted to play football at a real level, take my chance with that," said Jackson, who's one semester short of earning his business degree from Northern Colorado. While there, he grew five inches during his first two years.

Jackson's father still has the dated height marks on the walls of his home office, showing how much his son grew over the years. With the size came more chances in football. He was a second-round NFL draft pick in 2005 and it took him three years to hone his craft.

"I had to learn how to play small, how to run like a smaller guy and learn the little things about route running," Jackson said. "People watch me now and then they meet me and say, 'Wow, I didn't realize you were so tall.'

"I'm still going to be physical. I love to hit guys, really mash them with blocks because it makes them not want to take you on in the game. If you initiate the contact and keep hitting them, eventually they're going to back off. That's when I run right by them."

As far as this football business goes, that's a pretty good plan.