What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Jackson was an undrafted rookie cornerback from Maryland and a longshot to make the roster. But not only did he make the roster out of training camp but he developed into a starter opposite of Stephon Gilmore for the Patriots.
After a very impressive spring and summer where he shined at training camp, Jackson played in only about 16 percent of the defensive snaps for the first nearly three-quarters of the season. But from Week 12 onwards, he played in nearly 80 percent of the defensive snaps, starting in both the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl where the Patriots held the Rams to just three points.
In the last several years, Jackson is the third CB plucked by the Patriots as an UDFA to become a starter or regular contributor. Malcolm Butler in 2014 and Jonathan Jones in 2016 before him also were undrafted.
He shined in man coverage and was able to stick with and mirror opposing wide receivers. He also has shown extremely good ball skills with three interceptions and six passes defensed. As we have seen countless times, covering the opponent is one thing. But having the awareness and skills when the ball is in the air is another. Jackson has been able to do that.
Jackson posted the best passer rating allowed on cornerbacks who played 200 or more snaps in 2018 with an outstanding 42.0 when opposing QBs targeted him. According to PFF (Pro Football Focus), Jackson allowed only 22 receptions on 42 targets for a combined 262 yards as well as zero touchdowns to go along with his three picks. He also allowed 0.80 yards per coverage snap according to PFF. Gilmore’s was 0.72.
He also had an outstanding 21.4 percent forced incompletion rate, good for 7th overall in the league. Overall, he finished 2018 as PFF’s 12th best-rated corner. Perhaps Jackson’s best game was in Pittsburgh in Week 15. Matched up with the very dangerous JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jackson was extremely competitive. Smith-Schuster was targeted 10 times in the game and had just four catches for 40 yards, the second least productive games he had (catch percentage wise) in 2018 where he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards.
The Patriots are primarily a man-coverage team but Jackson showed he can play some zone as well. In the Week 16 game against Buffalo, he played underneath and undercut the route getting one of his three picks against Josh Allen.
If there is one area of weakness in Jackson’s game it could be playing against bigger wide receivers. Jackson who is generously listed as 6’1, 198 (he measured 5’10 at the NFL Combine) had a rough AFC Championship Game against the bigger Sammy Watkins and against Travis Kelce, however, the Chiefs ran roughshod over nearly every defense they faced in 2018.
But the Patriots, as they nearly always do, had a plan in place. They drafted a very big corner in Joejuan Williams (6’4) who can cover those bigger wideouts they’ll face. Flashback to 2014, the Patriots had Revis (lockdown) and Brandon Browner in those roles. Now with Williams in the fold, they’ll be able to mix and match against nearly anyone.
However, there are some in the Patriots front office who believe that Jackson will one day surpass Gilmore as the top corner of the team. And at just 23-years old, Jackson has yet to hit his peak. In fact, he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.
He and Gilmore are the locked down starters for a very talented group of corners that includes Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Williams, Keion Crossen, Duke Dawson and rookies Ken Webster as well as D’Angelo Ross.
The future appears bright for Jackson and he is our first choice as the 2019 Breakout Player of the Year.
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