With just one year of starting experience in college, is Jackson skilled enough to go top ten?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series is back! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the defensive back position. Today, we’ll take a look at Josh Jackson from Iowa.
Jackson wasn’t a highly touted recruit out of Lake Dallas High School in Texas, but managed to receive an offer from Iowa despite his three-star status. He earned playing time throughout his freshman and sophomore seasons, but only recorded one start and 18 total tackles in that time.
In his junior year, however, Jackson enjoyed an improbable breakout season. The lengthy CB led the entire FBS in interceptions (8), was named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, and was a Thorpe award finalist. Jackson’s standout play now has him firmly in the mid-first round discussion.
Of all Jackson’s strengths, his ball skills stand out the most. On top of his nation-leading interception total, he posted 27 pass deflections in 2017, showing just how often he was able to get a hand on passes his way. He does an excellent job of watching the quarterback’s eyes and playing the ball, rather than the receiver. This trait allows him to attack the football and go up to get it when it’s in the air:
Lined up at the top of the screen, Jackson reads the quarterback’s eyes and passes his man off to the safety in order to undercut the tight end’s route. Jackson locates the pass and goes to get the ball in traffic, showing an array of different skills all in one play.
Later on, in the same game against Ohio State, Jackson added insult to injury with a one-handed interception that no ordinary player could make:
He ended up with three interceptions against Ohio State, showing he could rise to the occasion against a top opponent and completely take over the game.
At 6’1, Jackson possesses plus size for a cornerback and knows how to use his length to his advantage. His size and reach allows him to compete with bigger receivers, and with exceptional instincts, he makes difficult pass breakups look easy:
Based on those highlights, it’s easy to see why Jackson had such a sensational season. But that’s the issue — we’ve only seen him play this way for one year. Had Jackson performed like he did last year for multiple seasons, he’s likely the first CB off the board. Time will tell if his 2017 campaign was a fluke, but there’s always a chance we’ve seen his peak.
One area of Jackson’s game that needs work is his hips. Often times, he will be in press coverage, but instead of using his length and frame to jam the receiver, he opens his hips and turns up field, allowing the receiver to get into his route more easily. In other cases, Jackson will give the receiver some cushion and still turn too early, leading to easy completions for the opposition:
Lined up at the bottom of the screen, Jackson never comes within five yards of his man until the pass is already delivered. That’d be more understandable if he gave cushion on a short route, but when his man is running free 15 yards down the field, it becomes problematic.
Like many other young CBs entering the pros, Jackson has been knocked for his tackling ability. Based on his tape, he’s more than willing to get his nose dirty and take on a larger ball carrier; he simply needs to add more muscle to his frame and get his technique right.
As of now, there’s no clear-cut hierarchy with this year’s CB prospects. Many analysts think Ohio State’s Denzel Ward should go off the board first, while Louisville’s Jaire Alexander crushed the combine and is generating some buzz as the draft’s best CB.
Assuming teams have Jackson right around the top three at the position, he’s likely to come off the board somewhere in the 10-20 range. In today’s pass happy NFL, no team should ever be content with their defensive back depth, meaning anyone could realistically go after Jackson if they like him enough. With that said, there are several teams with a glaring CB need that could desperately use Jackson’s services.
The Raiders make a ton of sense at pick No. 10, as do the Redskins at pick No. 13, who traded Kendall Fuller and let Bashaud Breeland walk this offseason. Should Jackson slip a little further, though, it’s hard to imagine Seattle passing on him at pick No. 18. The team has whittled down its CB unit to second-year pro Shaq Griffin and a bunch of no-names. Jackson’s plus size is exactly what the Seahawks look for in defensive backs, making the pairing even more likely.
With prototypical size and elite ball skills, Jackson has a case as this year’s top CB prospect. His combine performance wasn’t anything special and could ultimately drive him down the board a few spots, but that’s not to say Jackson can’t be the best pro from this crop of CBs: He just put together one of the most dominant seasons a college corner has had this century. Assuming it wasn’t just a flash in the pan, Jackson has all the tools to become an All-Pro caliber player in the same vein as Marcus Peters.
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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