J.C. Jackson Set For Long-Term Success With New England Patriots

J.C. Jackson

The New England Patriots have an unparalleled knack for finding NFL-caliber defensive backs as undrafted free agents. From Malcolm Butler to Jonathan Jones and even guys like Kenny Moore, the Patriots excel at finding the diamonds in the rough. New England’s newest undrafted gem could be second-year cornerback J.C. Jackson. Jackson emerged in the second half of 2018 and could be poised for a big role in the secondary. With training camp just a few weeks away, let’s take a look back on what to expect from the promising cornerback heading into his second year.

J.C. Jackson A Long-Term Fixture in New England

The first thing that jumps off the film with Jackson is his ball skills and man coverage prowess. J.C. Jackson played in just 37.9% of New England’s defensive snaps yet managed to record three interceptions and six passes defended. The undrafted rookie rarely allowed his man to break free, as Player Profiler credited Jackson with only 0.80 yards of separation allowed per route run. This great coverage ability combined with his natural ball skills allowed him to boast the best passer rating when targeted in the entire NFL.

Even when he was beaten, Jackson had great recovery skills which helped turn potential big plays into incompletions and turnovers. Jackson excelled at reading opposing receivers to sense when the ball was coming and where it was going to land. Oftentimes he’d get his hand on a slightly underthrown pass simply because the opposing receiver showed their hands too early.

New England played a significant amount of man coverage in 2018 and Jackson thrived in that coverage. However, the undrafted free agent also played well in zone coverage when given the chance. Back in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills, Jackson did a masterful job of reading quarterback Josh Allen and undercutting the pass. What would have been a gain of roughly 20 yards became a turnover simply because Jackson had the processing ability to sense where the ball was going to go.

What to Work On

J.C. Jackson did a lot of things well as a rookie, but he struggled when asked to match up against larger receivers. While he’s listed at 6’1” on New England’s official site, the Maryland product measured in at 5’10” in his pre-draft workouts. Unless he hit a remarkably late growth spurt in September of 2018, it’s safe to assume the Patriots are lying about his height. This relatively short height put him in the 13th percentile in his class and makes him relatively unfit to handle the NFL’s taller and stronger wide receivers.

New England normally played Jason McCourty against bigger receivers, but Jackson earned the nod against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship. The Patriots asked Jackson to cover 6’5” tight end Travis Kelce and 6’1” Sammy Watkins. This didn’t go well, as Jackson simply couldn’t match up against the size of these larger targets. In fairness, Patrick Mahomes and company made everyone look bad in 2018. Still, Jackson didn’t have what it took and had his worst game of the season.

How J.C. Jackson Fits in 2019’s Defense

Fortunately, New England has enough depth at cornerback that this shouldn’t be an issue. As previously mentioned, the Patriots still have Jason McCourty on the roster. McCourty is only one inch taller than Jackson, but he knows how to use his full body to match up against bigger receivers. Additionally, New England added cornerback Joejuan Williams in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. At 6’4”, Williams is one of the bigger cornerbacks in the league and is basically Brandon Browner all over again.

Stephon Gilmore is the unquestioned top cornerback on the depth chart. However, New England’s enviable cornerback depth allows them to get creative with their second cornerback. Jackson’s ball skills and tight coverage ensure that he should start in most games. However, if New England faces off against larger receivers, the Patriots can easily send out Williams or McCourty to start in Jackson’s place. No matter what they do, New England should have one of the best secondaries in the league, and Jackson should play a large role in that success.

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