During this offseason, Eagles’ starting cornerback Patrick Robinson signed with the New Orleans Saints, and while Jalen Mills has shown flashes of promise and talent, Eagles fans would likely be uncomfortable putting Mills out there as the starting outside corner opposite Ronald Darby. In the upcoming draft, the Eagles need look no further than Iowa CB Josh Jackson for their other starting corner…assuming he’s there.
Jackson had three interceptions against a talented Ohio State team in Iowa’s most significant game of the year, and perhaps the biggest upset of the college football season. One interception was just an absolute hawk of a one-handed pick that reminded football fans of the Brent Grimes one-handed interception on Calvin Johnson a couple of years ago.
Jackson was an all-district receiver at Texas’ Lake Dallas High School and actually came to Iowa expecting to continue his career at receiver. While Jackson ended up playing corner, his receiving experience undoubtedly helped his ball skills as he led college football in 2017 with eight interceptions and 26 passes defended. Jackson coupled the eight picks and 26 PDs with 48 tackles, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick to earn first-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors as a 13-game starter.
Following their upset of Ohio State, Iowa faced an undefeated (9-0) Wisconsin team ranked #8 in the country. Jackson scored Iowa’s first points by jumping an out route and scoring a pick six on Wisconsin’s opening possession. Jackson later forced a fumble and scored another pick six in a crucial moment when Iowa trailed Wisco 17-7 which brought the score back to 17-14. Iowa went on to lose the game 14-38, meaning Jackson scored all of the Hawkeye points that day.
Prior to the games against Wisco and OSU, Jackson again proved his playmaking ability against top-tier competition by intercepting Wyoming QB Josh Allen easily as he attempted to throw a simple comeback. Many scouts and experts have lauded Allen as a possible top 10 pick during April’s draft, and at the very least he is widely considered a definite 1st-rounder and one of the top three QBs in the upcoming draft.
Jackson’s game contains many strengths, but like any draft prospect Jackson has his share of flaws. For instance, Jackson could use some work on his press technique. When asked to press, he often has a tendency to bail out of press, trail the receiver, and sometimes attempts to “play the receiver” instead of locating the ball to make a play.
Although, his aggressiveness, open-field tackling ability, and willingness to tackle are all positive signs of a complete defender that would help solidify the Eagles defensive scheme. All of this doesn’t matter if Jackson isn’t there when the Eagles pick 32nd overall in the first round. In today’s pass-heavy NFL, plenty of teams value the services of the nation’s interception leader who constantly draws Marcus Peters comparisons. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller believes Jackson to be the best cornerback in the 2018 draft class. Mock drafts have Jackson going anywhere from eighth overall to midway through the second round.
CB1 is in the draft. Iowa's Josh Jackson declares.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 3, 2018
The possibility of Jackson being taken before the Eagles’ first pick is very real, but also somewhat unlikely (hopefully for Eagles fans). Reports are that Jackson’s struggles at the NFL Scouting Combine may have sunk his draft stock significantly. Personally, I think those “struggles” have been somewhat overplayed but I’ll get to that in a second.
NFL scouts have questioned Jackson’s speed on deep routes as well as his chase burst on routes he trails. At the combine, those questions became more prominent as Jackson ran a relatively slow 4.56 40-yard dash. To put it in perspective, the top 15 corners this year all ran times under 4.5, with the slowest of the top 15 running a 4.48. Additionally, Jackson frequently struggled during the defensive back drills the cornerback group ran on the field. Combine those two factors with the idea that many scouts consider Jackson a “one year wonder” with only a year of college experience and you get a sliding draft stock.
First off, I would just like to once again say that the combine is overrated and I could not give less of a shit if a guy drops a couple of balls indoors in shorts and no pads. Especially if that very same guy led Division I in interceptions and was able to perform even when facing elite opponents (Wisco, OSU, etc.).
I also don’t give a shit if a guy runs 40 yards in a straight line slower than others. Rarely, if ever, does an NFL player sprint 40 yards, untouched, in a straight line.
If you watch Jackson’s film one can plainly see that despite the slow 40 time he plays fast and can keep up with receivers. Even when Jackson is lined up in press technique at the line of scrimmage receivers are rarely able to gain separation on intermediate and deep routes. Even when they do, Jackson usually finds a way to locate the football and either swat it away or steal it for himself.
If we want to take a closer look at the overrated combine results, one can find many hints of the explosiveness and athleticism we see in Jackson’s film that do not show up if you simply read the number 4.56. Jackson was tied for third amongst corners in bench press reps with 18, was tied for fifth in vertical jump with 38 inches, and was fifth in the 20-yard shuttle (perhaps a more accurate measure of playing speed/agility considering the shifts in momentum during the shuttle drill).
As college football’s interception leader, Jackson allowed 41.3 percent completion rate and made a play on the ball on 25.7 percent of his targets, per NFL.com. Jackson also did not allow a single touchdown after week 4 of the college season which was an impressive feat considering after week 4 the Hawkeyes still had yet to face Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Nebraska, or play their bowl game.
While there are some concerns about Jackson’s press technique and his long speed, Jackson would still be a useful addition to the Eagles secondary, an upgrade over Jalen Mills, and perhaps even the turnover machine that will help the Eagles win back-to-back Super Bowls.