It’s obvious the Bears need cornerback help. While Minkah Fitzpatrick is the best defensive back in this year’s draft class, he isn’t a true cornerback. Josh Jackson, who rose to prominence on a better than expected Iowa team this season, is.
Jackson, a junior, got thrown onto the scene this season after being almost a complete non-factor his first two years for the Hawkeyes. He didn’t see his first regular snaps until this season, but he made the most of it, corralling eight interceptions for the Hawkeyes, including three in their blowout upset over then eighth-ranked Ohio State. He added two pick-sixes the following week against a Wisconsin Badgers team which finished the regular season undefeated.
Jackson could very easily play wide receiver if he so desired, as he has better hands than most in the league today. He actually started his college career as a receiver, before converting full-time to cornerback before his sophomore season. Remember that Odell Beckham Jr. catch against the Cowboys that people are still amazed at to this day?
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 5, 2018
Yeah, Jackson did that. He did that against four-year starter J.T. Barrett and a team which would finish the season fifth in the nation. This actually isn’t a terribly placed by ball by Barrett, though it probably falls incomplete if Jackson doesn’t make the play. It’s just a jaw-dropping play from one of the nation’s best players this season.
Jackson was selected as a unanimous All-American this past season, joining only Fitzpatrick and Texas’s DeShon Elliott as the only defensive backs with that honor.
Iowa CB Josh Jackson made JT Barrett pay for a late decision to his zone. The man was not going to be denied at the catch point. pic.twitter.com/uYML8TWT5h
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) November 8, 2017
It’s fairly easy to tell that Jackson has a background as a wide receiver, especially with this play. The receiver takes a lackadaisical approach to the catch, and Jackson makes him play, going in aggressive (like a receiver should) and snatching the ball from him. Even after losing a step on the cut, Jackson is able to reset his feet and make the interception look easy.
1 of 3 INT's for Iowa CB Josh Jackson vs Ohio State. Terrific job of reading the quarterback and breaking on the ball. pic.twitter.com/HXgMJM2gf0
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) November 8, 2017
Jackson’s ability to read the ball in flight matches that of some of the best wide receivers. Instead of essentially acting like a safety on this play, Jackson does a great job of breaking on the ball for the interception. Jackson has an incredible knack for finding the ball on all plays, even when the safer play is to play the man. This is why Jackson had an outstanding 18 passes defended this past season.
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) November 11, 2017
While this interception is fairly straightforward, it does show off those receiver-like qualities that Jackson has. First of all, it’s a nice interception. And more importantly in this play, he is able to change his direction extremely quickly to ensure he didn’t go out of bounds or wasn’t brought down, allowing him to score.
There are insane red flags when it comes to Jackson, however. The first and most obvious is his inexperience. This was Jackson’s only season with tons of playing time, which is an obvious concern. However, there is now a precedent of this front office selecting inexperienced players or players from smaller schools.
The other obvious concern with Jackson is whether all these clips are a one-off. While he made some impressive plays throughout the season, the ones that really stand out on film are from two games, Ohio State and Wisconsin. You could take this as a guy who plays up to tough competition, but the more valid argument could be that he had a nice stretch of games and that it isn’t truly indicative of his talent level. He’s an incredible talent, but he may not be the Josh Jackson that destroyed J.T. Barrett.
Regardless, Josh Jackson is not a top-10 talent. He hasn’t shown enough to be taken as high as the Bears are picking. However, if the Bears trade down, he should be on their radar. Much like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jackson has ball skills. Jackson has the best ball skills of any defensive back in the draft, he is going to get plenty of interceptions at the next level. He fixes that glaring hole in the secondary.
However, he is in no way, shape, or form a better defender than Minkah Fitzpatrick right now. There’s more that goes into the position than just grabbing interceptions, and Minkah outdoes Jackson pretty much across the board.
Luckily for any prospective defensive backs drafted by the Bears, their defensive scheme isn’t that difficult to adjust to. Anyone talented enough should work in their slot, as Vic Fangio does an incredible job scheming around his players. Given Prince Amukamara’s apparent hatred of the jugs machine, a corner with the hands of a wideout seems nice for the Bears.
Jackson’s likely a mid-1st round pick, so the Bears would be trading down if they want him. Given that a team like Buffalo (22nd and 23rd overall) may want to trade up for a quarterback, it’s incredibly likely the Bears do not make their pick at eight. If they don’t, Jackson could easily be in play as a possible selection for the Monsters of the Midway.