Iowa football: What the Green Bay Packers are getting in Hawkeyes cornerback Josh Jackson
A one-year wonder? Or an emerging superstar?
The Green Bay Packers are betting that Iowa's Josh Jackson is the latter, as they chose to take him with the No. 45 overall pick in Friday night's second round of the NFL draft in Arlington, Texas.
In his first year as a college starter, Jackson recorded eight interceptions to tie for the FBS lead (three came against Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, who entered that November game with one); he had two pick-six touchdowns to account for Iowa's only scoring at Wisconsin; he didn’t allow a touchdown pass after Week 4; and he was a consensus first-team all-American.
How will his game translate to the pros?
Hawk Central columnist Chad Leistikow broke down what the Packers can expect in this rangy native of Corinth, Texas.
There’s a reason Jackson decided to turn pro a year early: His stock couldn’t have risen much higher. In the four years that analytics site Pro Football Focus has been doing business, no cornerback had ever posted a higher season grade than Jackson’s 96.6 in 2017.
The numbers don't lie, and neither does the film. Probably because he was an unknown commodity for a while, Jackson was thrown at often in 2017, and he almost always responded. And he was consistent. He opened the season with an interception of Wyoming's Josh Allen in Week 1, and closed it with a Pinstripe Bowl-clinching pickoff against Boston College. For the year, quarterbacks owned a woeful 31.3 passer rating when Jackson was targeted.
While Jackson’s NFL scouting combine performance drew mixed reviews, he does possess the ball skills, the leaping ability (he once high-jumped 7 feet in a high school practice; and on Iowa’s pro day, he hit a 40-inch vertical jump) and length (6-foot, 196 pounds) to overcome for a perceived lack of straight-line speed.
PFF rated him the No. 1 cornerback in the draft.
No doubt, the biggest knock on Jackson’s NFL stock was speed. While his 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine wasn’t terrible, it did raise eyebrows when compared to someone like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward (4.32), who went to the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 overall.
Jackson did improve his 40 time to 4.52 at Iowa’s pro day — and DraftAnalyst.com reported that several stopwatches among the 39 scouts had him in the 4.4s, with one as low as 4.42.
Jackson’s relative inexperience (14 career starts) and the Big Ten Conference’s general lack of big-time receiving threats last fall also have raised questions about his evaluation. According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Jackson “can be turned by quality routes” and “needs to tighten up tackling.”
Leistikow’s final thoughts
From my seat, the theory of Jackson being a one-year wonder falls flat. Even at practices when he was a backup, Jackson was a guy who — again and again — showed freakish athleticism and ball-hawk tendencies in Iowa's defensive backfield.
The primary thing holding back Jackson from an earlier impact at Iowa was that he played behind a four-year starter and Jim Thorpe Award winner in Desmond King (who became one of the top rookie NFL corners of 2017) and a three-year starter in Greg Mabin (who last season caught on with the San Francisco 49ers). Even so, Jackson as a redshirt freshman in 2015 was trusted in passing situations to match up with Iowa State all-time leading receiver Allen Lazard.
Jackson has shown he can overcome any speed deficiency, which is why he's been compared favorably to four-time Pro Bowler Richard Sherman.
Take his third interception in Ohio State game as an example. Binjimen Victor had gotten slightly behind Jackson up the right sideline, but when Barrett’s fourth-quarter pass was thrown toward the end zone, Jackson’s instincts and length took over. He saw the ball coming, took a perfect angle and leaped high to make a spectacular one-handed interception, and tumbled to the ground for a touchback.
The NFL is all about making big plays; and Jackson can make them.
Jackson’s fast growth plus his work ethic equals a ready-made pro. And the fact that he starred in his only year as a college starter could actually be a sign that his ceiling is that much higher.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.