TAMPA, Fla. -- DeSean Jackson hadn't even set foot in Tampa yet, but he could hear Jameis Winston calling. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback made no secret about how much he wanted to play with Jackson, one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL for the last nine years and one of the most explosive playmakers.
"I was aware of it, because I [saw] it go across [the screen] on SportsCenter," said Jackson, referring to Winston's comments about how he'd love to play with Jackson. "I [saw] a couple tweets go out."
Then Winston picked up the phone. "[It was] him just saying, 'Bro, I would love to play with you,'" Jackson recalled. "Hopefully we can make this work."
Once Jackson got to Tampa, it became clear that the respect and admiration between the two was mutual. Jackson's been watching Winston since he led Florida State to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, winning a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
In 2016, Winston helped lead the Bucs to a 9-7 record, their first winning season since 2010. Jackson watched that season closely, too. His former team, the Washington Redskins, were neck and neck with the Bucs, trying to earn a wild-card spot in the playoffs.
“I found out, for one, he’s a winner," Jackson said. "A hard worker -- a determined, dedicated winner. That’s really all I can say about him. I don’t know him to the utmost [like] I will in the next couple of months, but as far as the history and what I’ve seen ... I think he has everything that it takes to get to the Super Bowl and win a championship. As long as you have the intangibles, that’s what you look for."
Going into his third year, Winston has demonstrated qualities that translate to success in the NFL: He's a leader in the locker room. He can take a hit and deliver a clutch throw. And he has a knack for improvisation. But Jackson could help him elevate his game in some key areas where he and the offense are lacking, such as the deep ball.
Since his rookie season in 2015, Winston has completed 22.8 percent of his passes thrown 30 or more air yards down the field -- 29th in the league. In Washington, nine of quarterback Kirk Cousins' 21 completions on throws of 30 or more air yards were to Jackson.
The Bucs were the only team in the NFL without a 50-yard pass play last season, according to Elias. Jackson leads active NFL receivers with the most 50-yard catches (37), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I'm gonna make it a lot easier for him," Jackson said. "Being able to have a guy where, going down the field, with decision making, he can be decisive about certain things. I just want to make it as easy as possible. I know Mike Evans already makes it easier for him, but now to have me, it just makes it a lot [easier]. When you have guys who can go out and get open and beat defenders, I think, hopefully when he drops back and sees guys open, it's going to be easy for him."
The Bucs were also one of two teams that didn't have a 50-yard passing touchdown. Jackson currently leads the NFL with 21 50-yard touchdown receptions since entering the league in 2008. Only Terrell Owens, Lance Alworth, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice have more in NFL history.
Jackson also adds a different dimension to the Bucs' offense. With Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson the last two years, it was always "Give a tall guy a tall ball." Winston would lob it high into the air, and one of the two 6-foot-5 receivers would leap up high to grab it.
For Jackson, who's 5-foot-10, it's not about contested catches or size mismatches -- it's about speed and getting yards after the catch. Since 2008, postseason contests included, he has recorded 2,959 yards after the catch, eighth-most in the league.
“Put the ball in my hands, I’m going to get it done," Jackson said. "I’m not going to judge that. I’m not going to rank that. But I feel very confident that when the ball is in my hands, what I’m able to do with the ball –- we could be on [our] 1-yard line, we could be on the [opponent's] 15-yard line, wherever we’re at -- put the ball in my hands, I feel like I’m going to get the job done.”