Both DeSean Jackson and Ray Rice were drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. DeSean Jackson was drafted 49th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles with Ray Rice coming shortly after at 55th overall by the Baltimore Ravens. Long considered two of the better players from that class, both have undergone a challenging offseason.
Ray Rice was provided an arraignment date for his much-publicized incident in Atlantic City but has the support of the team, while DeSean Jackson was unceremoniously cut from the Philadelphia Eagles for what is likely a variety of reasons that may not become entirely clear.
Ray Rice, until now, has been seen as a true model NFL player and community citizen. This makes his transgression, much debated already, all the more shocking and unnerving. Because of his past production and reputation, he received a contract that makes it awfully difficult for the Ravens to justify taking drastic action at the moment.
Jackson, until now, has not been seen as a model NFL teammate by many accounts (though he has a good community track record to my knowledge). For instance, Andy Reid suspended him in the 2011 "Dream Team" season, right about the time that the Eagles were in full Hindenberg mode, as the result of allegedly missing a meeting and other interpersonal issues with the team. He was also given a rich contract but it was structured such that the Eagles could very much re-evaluate him in two years with little repercussions.
They did that, and they decided they did not want to pay him $10+ million to play in 2014.
First, they are both, fairly or unfairly depending on your own point of view, taking a character beating in the court of public opinion.
Rice and Jackson defenders will say they are having their character assassinated and detractors will argue they are getting what they deserve. Reasonable people can and will disagree on who is right but, while Rice's predicament has been examined often here, in Jackson's case much of the whispering rumors surrounding him lacks foundation, as Richard Sherman pointed out, and has the appearance of a convenient excuse for the Eagles to jettison his undesirable contract and attitude.
As Sherman notes persuasively and accurately, people were quick to chalk up Jim Irsay's horribly irresponsible drunken driving, possession of significant amounts of drugs, some of which he was on at the time, as "poor Jim Irsay, he needs help." Where was that reserved judgment for Jackson, who was not arrested, and is not a billionaire owner in charge of hundreds of employees?
Second, and to get us back on the positive side of things, the one thing that all can and should agree on, however, is that these are two of the most productive players to come out of that draft.
Looking back at that class to see how they stack up, I found some interesting data points.
First, no receiver was selected in the first round. That fact alone is almost stunning, especially this year when it appears that no less than seven or eight receivers could go in the first round.
Second, the first receiver selected was Donnie Avery at 33rd overall. Avery has made a few plays in his career, notably in last year's playoff game between Kansas City and Indianapolis (both teams he has played for), but none would say he holds a candle to DeSean Jackson.
Third, no less than five running backs were selected in the first round. Ray Rice was the seventh RB selected in the draft at 55th overall. Just to give you an idea of how unusual that is today, in the 2013 Draft, no running back was selected until Giovani Bernard at 37th overall and the consensus No. 1 running back in that draft fell all the way to 61. The 2014 draft promises to be no different.
It is fair to say that barring another league shift or highly unusual class, we will not see five backs go in the first round for a long time because the game has been a passing league for over a decade now (if not longer). NFL teams just didn't catch on to that fact until more recently.
Looking at the players in the class, Rice and Jackson were, in my estimation, the two best players to come out in the second round.
A strong case could be made for other players. Calais Campbell (2.50) has been a stud for the Cardinals, as evidenced by his five year, $55 million contract. Brandon Flowers (2.35) has long been an elite but unheralded cornerback for the Chiefs. Jordy Nelson (2.36), too, has produced at a high-level for the Packers yet plays on a very below market extension signed in 2011. Matt Forte (2.44) has been the glue that holds the pieces together when the brittle Jay Cutler inevitably breaks again.
The rest are a cast of forgettable characters. The so-called debate about who would go first or would be better from the quarterback trio of Joe Flacco, Brian Brohm, and Chad Henne has proven to be a joke in retrospect. Brohm has been a marginal player in the Canadian Football League, and Henne has managed to at least be better than Blaine Gabbert. So there's that.
Even the first round is littered with dramatic busts. Vernon Gholston is practically a lock for every future top 10 draft busts list ever.
Its possible that Derrick Harvey's career exists solely to serve as a warning to others against the temptation to go all-in on the belief that a team is "close" to a Super Bowl. DRC and Aqib Talib are both good players who got paid despite some red flags for both. Chris Johnson is soon to be looking for work and may go down as a one-hit wonder.
For my money, Rice and Jackson have done more for their teams, more consistently, than anyone else from the second round with much of their respective offenses running directly through them for years. They hold up very well to the successful first round picks as well.
None of the other wide receivers in the draft, except maybe Nelson, can be talked about in the same sentence for Jackson. None of the other running backs, except Forte, can be talked about in the same sentence as Rice.
Yet Rice, despite having a tough 2013, and an even tougher off-season, has the support of his team and hopes to make a bounce back. Jackson, despite having a great 2013, and a seemingly innocuous offseason, has arguably gotten a raw deal from the Eagles, especially given the unfounded comments attacking his character.
Perhaps that is why the Ravens are a perennial contender and two-time Super Bowl Champion, and the Eagles are still searching for a ring, much less anything approaching regular postseason relevance. While we have to hope that Rice can return and produce, Eagles fans have to hope that Chip Kelly is really the wizard they expect him to be because that's an awfully good player they cut.
That's why I'm a bit glad to see Jackson sign on with a division rival. He may not have a great locker room presence, but he deserves better than to have his name dragged in the mud on the questionable and unfair whispers of a gang affiliation. Judge him on how he interacts with teammates and coaches — not on the type of Instagram photos he posts in March from his hometown.
Rice of course has been analyzed at length here, but suffice to say, the Ravens have an admirable track record of not throwing their integral players under the bus when they make a mistake, as bad as this one was. It remains to be seen what becomes of him, both legally and on the field. Let's judge him, too, on how he responds to his enormous mistake going forward — both personally and on the field.
Both players have proven themselves on the field as two of the elite players from the 2008 class.
Now both have to prove, rightly or wrongly, that they are not defined by the respective negativity that has followed them in 2014.
For Jackson, that will be proving that his new team's support is justified. For Rice, that will be proving that his existing team's support is justified.
And whether they like it or not, how their careers are ultimately remembered will have much to do with how they well they do that.