Los Angeles Rams
1968 - 1983
208 Games Played
10,372 Yards Receiving
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