DeSean Jackson, still speedy after all these years: 'I still feel like I'd take me over anybody'

TAMPA, Fla. -- Thirty years old and heading into his 10th NFL season, DeSean Jackson is still so fast that no one at Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp is interested in challenging him to a race.

"Not yet, no one's asked yet," the first-year Buc said after practice Sunday. "I like my odds, though. I still feel like I'd take me over anybody."

The Buccaneers feel that way, too, which is why they went after Jackson in free agency and signed him to a three-year, $33.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. Quarterback Jameis Winston was taking too many hits, and part of the reason was the team's lack of speed and explosiveness on offense. Their top receivers last season were Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate, both very good players but not top-end speed guys. On plays when Evans was double-covered and Brate wasn't open, Winston had to hang in the pocket too long.

"We lost Vincent Jackson both of the last two years, and Mike got doubled a lot," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "We saw a lot of coverage roll toward Mike, and that's a little tougher to do with DeSean out there. We saw a couple of examples out there in practice [Saturday]. DeSean got one-on-one coverage without safety help, and DeSean is off-the-charts fast. He went by [cornerback] Vernon Hargreaves one time like he was standing still, and Vernon Hargreaves is fast. DeSean is really fast."

Jackson's speed has remained his strength since the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2008. It followed him to Washington after the Eagles released him in 2014, and it now brings him to Tampa, where he, Evans, Brate and rookie tight end O.J. Howard look to form a diverse arsenal for third-year franchise quarterback Winston. Jackson considers himself fortunate to have retained his speed as long as he has.

"It just goes to my offseason training -- the fact that I've been able to stay healthy and been blessed not to have any serious injuries," Jackson said. "So just the work I put into it during the offseason, and it's just repetition -- day in, day out, even when we're not in season, the things I'm doing. Staying on the track, staying fast, doing all my little drills that made me what I am today."

Jackson is one of the league's rare players -- a 5-foot-10, 170-pound waterbug receiver who has the ability to alter coverages and game plans at a time when even skill-position players seem to be getting bigger and more physical. Jackson looks at the rookie Howard (6-foot-6, 251) and says, "freak of nature -- like a Gronk or a Jordan Reed." But Jackson's freakishness is not to be underestimated. Cornerbacks dread trying to run with him on Sundays. Coordinators go into the week knowing they'll need to keep a safety high at all times.

"He makes a huge difference," Winston said. "Just the ability to throw it as far as you can and watch him go get it."

Winston was 14 when Jackson got drafted. He's happy to see him still speeding along.

"I know I'm 30, but I still feel like I'm not at that point where I'm struggling to do what I do," Jackson said. "I still feel fortunate to have the skill set to play with all these young guys. Nowadays, all these young dudes come in and they're freaks of nature. So I'm fortunate to still feel like I'm not old enough to not still feel like I'm young. At least I think."