Josh Jackson was a prized wide receiver recruit when he chose to attend school at Iowa. However, a role reversal saw him finish his college career as not only a cornerback but one who led the nation in interceptions. With just 14 career starts, does the quick transformation justify first-round status, or is the hype too much for this potential one-year wonder?
Jackson still plays like a wide receiver at times in the defensive backfield. He has the “my ball” mentality, has elite ball skills and knows how to read the quarterback. Jackson does an incredible job of finding the ball and high pointing it. Take the play below for example. Deep down the field and Jackson is not only right on his receiver, he is able to find the ball, break off of the route, and high point the catch with ridiculous ability. And they said wide receivers only move to cornerback because they can’t catch.
Jackson can absolutely catch the football. He is also very fluid and comfortable reading the quarterback and passing off receivers in a zone. He never latches onto his man. Watch the play below. Jackson is responsible for the deep third but is keeping everything in front of him. He breaks inside but sees the quarterback watching him. Josh Jackson knows the quarterback is going to throw towards the sideline after he takes the hard step inside. Jackson is able to stay disciplined, pick up the receiver heading towards the sideline, and jump a pass that the quarterback thought he would be nowhere near. His anticipation and understanding of what the offense is going to do is phenomenal.
Jackson is still limited by being a two-year cornerback and a one-year starter. There is a lot of nuances to be had with Josh Jackson. Especially when it comes to man. Iowa ran a ton of zone, and that is where Jackson was comfortable. In that comfort zone, he thrived. However, teams have to mix it up in the NFL. Jackson hardly has experience in man and has yet to show the foot quickness to follow receivers in and out of breaks. Double moves have been in an issue, and his technique in press is very raw. Overall in the right scheme, there is a lot to get out of Jackson. However, in the wrong scheme, he is much more of a project than some are putting off.
Pro Comparison Darius Slay Detroit Lions
Slay led the NFL in interceptions, Josh Jackson led the NCAA in interceptions. Comparison done. But seriously, the two do bring real similarities and it goes beyond interceptions. However, it starts with ball skills. Both cornerbacks do a great job of playing the ball, tracking the ball and extending the catch radius to turn the ball over. Both have long arms to get their hands in and break up passes and both fluid hips to change direction quickly.
Fit for Pittsburgh Steelers
Here comes the classic zone vs. man debate for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. If they draft Josh Jackson, all of the talk will be that this team is stuck in zone again. While Jackson thrived in zone, he can play man and can progress as a man defender. That is just where he needs to work on his game. Artie Burns is still a cornerback who would be best off playing more man and thinking in zone less. The Steelers can mix up coverages with the duo of cornerbacks, and with Jackson and Burns would have two tall, long cornerbacks with ball skills to turn it over.
The question with Jackson is whether or not he could make it to the 28th pick. Some see the turnovers translating to a top half of the first round pick, and it very well could be that Jackson is gone by their pick. However, given the scheme fit and the upside of a long cornerback with ball skills, Jackson could be on the Steelers radar as they enter draft-season.