Name: Josh Jackson (no, not this one)
Weight: 196 lb
40 Time: 4.56s
Class: Redshirt Junior
Awards: Winner of the 2017 Jack Tatum award for the top defensive back in college football. Finalist for the 2017 Jack Thorpe award (which, confusingly, is for the same thing). Also a 2017 unanimous All-American. Also Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and a First Team All-Big Ten, but that goes as read.
Games Watched: vs Nebraska, vs Wisconsin, vs Ohio State (all 2017)
Native of Corinth, Texas (it’s a suburb of Dallas). Played two-way as defensive back and wide receiver in high school. Redshirted in 2014 to adjust to playing full time cornerback. Played in 2015 and 2016 but only became a regular starter in 2017, ultimately making 8 interceptions, 2 returned for a touchdown, and forced a fumble.
When people are falling over themselves to find the most athletic cornerback, ball skills can get overlooked. This is where Josh Jackson shines. The Nebraska game showed how he can track a ball, time his turn round, and get his hands in the way and deflect passes. Obviously he demonstrated his ballhawking skills with two interceptions against Wisconsin. But he was placing his hands perfectly across all games, hence 19 passes defended across the year. So he can deflect the ball, and he can leap into to intercept the ball.
He also moves smoothly to track routes. I’ll be honest, I was surprised he only ran a 4.56 40 at the combine – he looked to have longer speed than that. But what he shows on tape is that he doesn’t tend to get beaten deep. How? He understands when to leave a cushion and when not to. And here’s the key – he looks to use that cushion to get a quick read on the quarterback too. But the smoothness means he can follow a receiver’s cuts without losing speed. His 20-yard shuttle didn’t quite break 4 seconds but that’s still a strength.. Agility looks good too – he was a fantastic leaper on tape and his combine performance backed that up. These combined? Yeah, I believe he can maintain coverage perfectly well enough in the pros.
Something like 90% of cornerback scouting reports in recent years could contain the phrase “can’t tackle for toffee”. Jackson, alas, is no exception. Watching him against Ohio State, he got bowled over or wriggled away from a bit too often for my liking. It’s not necessarily a problem – corners in recent years have been drafted high despite poor tackling and played well. Jackson might have potential though – he managed 18 reps on the bench press at the combine. So, you wonder if it’s just learning to direct his strength. Still, right now tackling is a weakness. The question will be, if he can learn to use strength he should make a good press-man corner, but until he does, can he play that system?
I also have a slight concern about his concentration, maybe? I’ve seen Jackson track moves and I know he has agility. So why does he get beaten on double moves? I know they’re hard to do but Jackson is built to excel against them. Maybe it’s inexperience, but it looked a bit like he committed fully to the first move and then wasn’t able to get in place for the second, or that he only expected one. So it could be balance or concentration. Either way, those are fundamentals of cornerback play he’ll need to brush up on.
Jackson is a potential playmaking machine. He has the kind of ball skills you’d expect of a former wide receiver. But where he shines is he has the nous to get his arms in the right spots to break up passes too. He has fantastic change of direction speed and great vertical agility, so there are no physical complaints. There are questions. Will his lack of tackling chops put teams off? More likely, they might be worried by his lack of long speed. Even though we know that his short and intermediate speed – what he’ll be required to use the most at NFL level – are very good. Jackson has the potential to be very very good indeed, and importantly can play outside or in the slot early.
Projection: Mid-1st round