Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson leads the country in interceptions and passes defended. Chad Leistikow/The Register
In his first year as a college starter, Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson has officially become one of the best at his position.
The fast-rising junior from Corinth, Texas, was on Monday named one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back.
The distinction is especially impressive, considering Jackson wasn't even among the 13 semifinalists announced in late October. Not long after, Jackson had two of the most impressive defensive games for any college player — three interceptions in a 55-24 win against then-No. 3 Ohio State, then two interception-return touchdowns and a forced fumble a week later in a 38-14 loss at then-No. 3 Wisconsin.
Jackson's raw numbers are excellent. He leads the nation with seven interceptions and 24 passes defended; he ranks third in pass break-ups (17) and interception-return yards (163). With one more interception, Jackson would tie Iowa’s single-season record of eight shared by Desmond King (the 2015 Thorpe winner), Lou King (1981) and Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick (1939).
A look at the two other finalists Jackson (6-foot-1, 192 pounds) will be up against:
Texas safety Deshon Elliott: Also a first-year starter, Elliott is just behind Jackson in interceptions (with six) while also having TD runbacks against Southern California and Baylor. He also leads all defensive backs nationally with 8.5 tackles for lost yardage. Texas and Iowa each have 6-5 records.
Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick: The junior has less gaudy statistics (he has one interception and is the team's fifth-leading tackler) but is widely considered one of the top defensive players for the best team in the country. Fitzpatrick is also one of three finalists for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player.
The Thorpe Award will be announced Dec. 7 in Atlanta as part of ESPN's Home Depot College Football Awards.
Earlier Monday, it was revealed that Iowa's Josey Jewell was not among the five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker, even though he was a finalist for that honor in 2016 and leads the Big Ten Conference in tackles despite missing one game with an injury.