Harold Jackson 5'10" 175 Wide Receiver Los Angeles Rams Philadelphia Eagles 1968 - 1983 16 Seasons 208 Games Played 579 Receptions 10,372 Yards Receiving 76 Touchdowns 5 Pro Bowls
Harold Leon Jackson was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 12th round of the 1967 NFL Draft, the 323rd player chosen overall. He was just the 11th of a now 56 players drafted from Jackson State University. There have been 92 players from the school to have played pro football so far.
Led by Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Jackie Slater, and Lem Barney with other gridiron legends like Robert Brazile, Coy Bacon, Speedy Duncan, Leon Gray, Wilbert Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, and Rickey Young. Jackson's five Pro Bowls are only exceeded by Payton, Slater, and Barney, and matched by Smith.
He only appeared in two games during his rookie season, not recording a statistic. The Rams then dealt him to the Philadelphia Eagles before the 1968 season, where he would soon be known throughout the league. He was their only offensive Pro Bowler, and one of the three they had that year.
On a Eagles team that struggled to four wins, he caught nearly half of starting quarterback Norm Snead's passing yards and touchdowns with an NFL leading 1,116 yards and 9 scores on a career best 65 receptions. His career best 79,7 receiving yards per game also led the league.
The Eagles struggled in mediocrity the next two years, and juggled Snead, Pete Liske, and Rick Arrington at the quarterback position. They ran the ball mostly, and Jackson caught 88 balls for eight scores over that time. He exploded in 1972 with another Pro Bowl season, leading the NFL with 62 receptions, 1,048 receiving yards, and 74.9 receiving yards per game.
The Rams decided they wanted Jackson back, so they traded three time Pro Bowl quarterback Roman Gabriel for him. The trade benefited both teams, as both men made the Pro Bowl that year with their new teams.
Jackson accrued his only First Team All-Pro honor as well that season, leading the NFL with a career high 13 touchdown catches with a career best 21.9 yards per catch on 40 receptions. One game saw him score four times on seven receptions for 238 yards that year.
He stayed a productive deep threat for the Rams over the next four years, making the Pro Bowl in 1975,, averaging over 16 yards per catch on 160 balls. He made his last Pro Bowl in 1977, then joined the New England Patriots the next year.
He added another component to an explosive Patriots passing attack led by quarterback Steve Grogan with wide receiver Stanley Morgan and tight end Russ Francis. They were called "Grogan's Heroes".
Jackson averaged over 20 yards per catch in three of his four years in New England. Though Grogan never earned a Pro Bowl nod, he enjoyed the finest years of his career with the trio. Morgan also averaged over 20 yards each year, going to a pair of Pro Bowls. Francis was a top tight end during that era, having made his third and final Pro Bowl squad that year. The team was in the top ten in the league in offensive yards and points in Jackson's first three years with the team.
Now 36-years old, he joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1982. It was the only year he did not have the number 29 on his jersey, and it proved to be a jinx. He was hurt in the first game, not getting any statistics and missing the rest of the year. He then joined the Seattle Seahawks the next year, catching eight passes before retiring at seasons end.
He was back in uniform in 1987 with the Patriots at the age of 41. The NFL players had went on strike, so New England asked him to suit up for two games. Though he was their receivers coach, he obliged but did not appear in a game.
In the decade of the 1970's, no other player caught more balls for more yards and more touchdowns than Harold Jackson. His feat is even more of an amazing accomplishment, considering he had over 14 different quarterbacks throwing him the ball in his career on some teams that generally struggled at that position.
He helped Pat Haden make his only Pro Bowl, helped John Hadl make his last and his only First Team All-Pro honor. He caught some of Hall of Famer Joe Namath last passes, and improved the games of Grogan, Liske, James Harris, and John Reaves.
Most people look at his career average of 17.9 yards per catch, or the fact he averaged over 20 yards four times, and assume Jackson was strictly a deep threat. While he was torturous on defensive backs on the long ball, he also ran precision routes and had excellent hands.
Of the four wide receivers that were chosen on the NFL's 1970's All-Decade Team, only two are in Canton. Not only did Jackson outperform them with catches, yardage, and touchdowns, but he averaged more yards per catch than any of them. The closest to him is Hall of Famer Lynn Swann and fellow All-Decade selection Drew Pearson with their 17.1 yards per catch. Pearson played seven years that decade, Swann had six. Jackson averaged 18.2 over the entire ten years.
One probable reason for his not being chosen was the fact he played on just a few teams that made the playoffs a few times. Mostly his teams struggled, where he was all they had as a deep route threat. He often was met with double teams in an era where the ten-yard chuck was legal, thus making it much more difficult to get open. Teams also generally had their defensive backs play man-to-man, another way making getting open much harder in the ten-yard chuck rule era.
If Jackson got to play in this era of zone defenses and the 5-yard chuck rule, you could easily pump up his career statistics to even more astonishing numbers. Yet with all the rules since 1979 that helped the offense, he still ranks 29th in NFL history in receiving yards, 23rd in career yards per touch, and 24th in receiving touchdowns.
Though the casual football viewer might see him as a sexy choice, and the voters in Canton have not really voted much for him since his retirement, the numbers do not lie. The newer fan might not appreciate his numbers, not understanding the game or the rules of his era.
The fact he still ranks 67th on the All-Time receptions list in NFL history shows his productivity and that he was more than a deep threat. Some critics might point to his five Pro Bowls not being enough, but Jackson played in an era where your peers voted him in. Not a computer generated fan vote like today that is a popularity contest seemingly based more of histrionics than actual football play.
Of the 19 wide receivers inducted into Canton, only eight have appeared in more Pro Bowls than Jackson. What got many of those with lesser Pro Bowls inducted was the fact they played on teams that won championships. This is a debate on whether a teams accomplishments should be part of the reasoning for induction or if a players actual individual accomplishments on the gridiron constitutes worthiness.
If he had played on just one championship team, the theory that Harold Jackson already being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame seems fathomable. Cliff Branch, though somewhat comparable to Jackson but with lesser numbers, played on three championship teams and came fairly close to induction a few times.
Perhaps it is time to look more at what the player does with what he has to work with around him, than what his team does while with him. Harold Jackson most certainly belongs in Canton.
Notable Players Drafted In 1968 (* Denotes Hall Of Fame)
1. Ron Yary, OT, Minnesota * 2. Bob Johnson, C, Cincinnati 3. Claude Humphrey, DE, Atlanta 4. Russ Washington, DT/ OT, San Diego 8. Larry Csonka, FB, Miami * 9. Haven Moses, WR, Buffalo 11. Greg Landry, QB, Detroit 13. MacArthur Lane, RB, St. Louis Cardinals 14. Tim Rossovich, LB, Philadelphia 15. Forrest Blue, C, San Francisco 23. John Williams, OT, Baltimore Colts 26. Bill Lueck, G, Green Bay 31. Curley Culp, DT, Denver 33. Charlie West, DB, Minnesota 42. Bob Atkins, DB, St. Louis 43. Bill Lenkaitus, C, San Diego 47. John Garlington, LB, Cleveland 48. Mike Livingston, QB, Kansas City 52. Ken Stabler, QB, Oakland 69. Skip Vanderbundt, LB, San Francisco 73. Dick Anderson, DB, Miami 74. Charlie Sanders, TE, Detroit * 77. Elvin Bethea, DE, Houston Oilers * 80. Art Shell, OT, Oakland * 81. Dick Himes, OT, Green Bay 82. Paul Robinson, RB, Cincinnati 84. Jess Phillips, RB, Cincinnati 98. Johnny Fuller, DB, San Francisco 105. Jim Beirne, WR, Houston 110. Charlie H. Smith, RB, Oakland 117. Mike Bragg, P, Washington 118. Jim Kiick, RB, Miami 124. Mark Nordquist, G, Philadelphia 127. Cecil Turner, WR, Chicago 130. Blaine Nye, G, Dallas 156. Essex Johnson, RB, Cincinnati 159. D.D. Lewis, LB, Dallas 167. Oscar Reed, RB, Minnesota 176. Bob Brunet, RB, Washington 181. Willie Holman, DE, Chicago 190. George Atkinson, DB, Oakland 222. Paul Smith, DT, Denver 249. John Outlaw, DB, Boston Patriots 261. Tommy Hart, DE, San Francisco 275. Greg Brezina, LB, Atlanta 277. Marv Hubbard, RB, Oakland 288. Henry Davis, LB, New York Giants 289. Rich Coady, C, Chicago 291. Dennis Partee, K, San Diego 297. John Pergine, LB, Los Angeles Rams 301. Bob Trumpy, TE, Cincinnati 305. Jim Cheyunski, LB, Boston 317. Jeff Queen, RB, San Diego 330. Charlie Greer, DB, Denver 351. Dean Halverson, LB, LA Rams 357. Marlin Briscoe, WR, Denver 375. Robert Holmes, RB, Kansas City 417. Rocky Bleier, RB, Pittsburgh 428. Larry Cole, DE, Dallas 441. Bob Lee, QB, Minnesota