Rising sophomore J.C. Jackson is looking to improve on his rookie season as he develops with the help of the loaded Patriots’ secondary.
If there is one asset the New England Patriots’ secondary lacks, it’s not experience. Free safety Devin McCourty is set to return for his 10th season, while strong safety Patrick Chung is years into his second stint with the team. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is coming off an All-Pro season, while opposite cornerback Jason McCourty is hoping to re-sign with the Pats following the first postseason experience of his long career.
The knowledge gained and utilized by these players will be essential in the development of rising star J.C. Jackson.
Jackson, a cornerback who started his college career at Florida, has faced a rocky road on his path to the NFL. Injured in his first game, Jackson went on to miss his first year at Florida. He would never play another game for them, as he was charged with armed robbery later that year. The young athlete was found not guilty but still transferred to Riverside City College, where he spent a year training before spending his last year at Maryland. At the conclusion of the 2018 NFL Draft, Jackson went undrafted.
A few weeks after the NFL Draft, Jackson signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent and immediately made his presence known. New England has found success in recent history investing in troubled defensive backs (such as Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib), and it appears Jackson is here to stay as a key member of the secondary.
As of now, it remains likely the Patriots bring back veteran cornerback Jason McCourty, who is slated to become a free agent. Regardless of McCourty’s status for next year, it’s clear the Patriots view Jackson as a starter for the foreseeable future.
Gifted with size and speed, Jackson has the prototypical build for a shut-down cornerback; he is 6-foot-1 and runs a 4.46 40-yard dash. Hindered by his past troubles, Jackson had the potential to be a first- or second-round pick. Now, it appears New England hit the lottery, as they took a chance and now have a starter on defense who’s on a cheap, undrafted free agent contract.
Multiple factors will affect where Jackson lines up next season, including Jason McCourty’s contract, and sophomore cornerback Duke Dawson’s health.
McCourty, who played the majority of his snaps on the outside, should return next year on a team-friendly deal, but is 31 years old.
Dawson, a speedy runner who is best manning the slot, wasn’t able to stay healthy last year.
Thankfully, the versatility displayed by Jackson earned him playing time, as well as five starts in his rookie campaign.
With the departure of defensive play-caller Brian Flores and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, Jackson will look to learn from new defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano. Schiano is known for employing aggressive defenses, which perfectly suits Jackson’s strengths.
New England ran an exceptionally high percentage of their defensive plays in man coverage, and that total should increase now that Schiano is in town. With the right coaching, Jackson could continue breaking out early in his career.
The rising sophomore still has issues with his game to work on; he occasionally bites early resulting in large plays, and he also has problems grabbing receivers during their break. These nagging issues led to a high amount of penalties on Jackson, something that also plagued him during his college career.
With a full year of experience under his belt and the drive of wanting to repeat as a Super Bowl champion, Jackson is a name that fans should get to know.
He will be a mainstay of the defense for years to come.