As his numbers slipped, debate stirred: Had defenses figured him out? Was he too reluctant to absorb hits? A diva? Was he too reliant on one big trick - his speed? Or was he simply a young player struggling with the challenge of double-teams and a dispute with management?
Answers should arrive this season, when Jackson has a chance to prove he was worth the investment the Eagles made and, as he often asserts, is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Having signed a five-year deal worth up to $51 million, Jackson has no excuses for missing meetings or letting his frustration drag down his effort. He has said that this year feels different - that a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders. Coach Andy Reid said he saw the change in minicamp.
"He's bouncing around, playing fast. He's got a load off his mind," Reid said. "He's a young guy that had a whole lot of things on his plate. . . . Sometimes he did good with it. Sometimes he didn't do so good with it, but he worked through it. I think he grew up and now he was able to make some money here doing what he loves to do."
When he is at his best, Jackson can change the outcomes of games by himself, with a sudden deep strike or stunning return. But those big plays declined in 2011 as defenses adapted and Jackson let opportunities, and passes, slip through his fingers. At one point he was benched for missing a team meeting and was benched during another game when he seemed to be giving a half-hearted effort. After the season, Jackson admitted he didn't handle his unsettled contract as well as he should have.
Reid, though, has seen a different player in the run-up to the 2012 season and said Jackson is working to improve the finer points of his game. In particular, Jackson has been working on catching passes thrown below his waist, when he has to put his pinkies together to make the grab.
"Phenomenal route runner, knows how to utilize his speed and can stop on a dime," Reid said. "It's those little-finger catches. Those are little things. We've all got them. . . . If you're going to be great, you've got to get those things answered. And the guys that want to be great, they grind on those things."
For two years, Jackson has had to grind through questions. Now, free from that burden, he needs to show what he can do when fully focused.
Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari.