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2018 Rewind Study: CB Will Jackson
-- Our offseason 'Rewind' reports are where we look at an individual player's previous season(s) of work--analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a 'blip' performance, or signs of future greatness...or signs of a mega-bust approaching. --
Will Jackson – True Shutdown Cornerback?
I’ll give the short version and you can move on -- or stay round around and read all the fascinating reasons I have to back up my thesis.
Short Version: Yes, Will Jackson is absolutely a shutdown corner in the NFL. Not ‘going to be’…he is, right now. He was in 2017 when he was finally pushed as a starter.
The ‘WJax as shutdown corner’ theory means you want to take fantasy note for opposing #1 non-slot WRs and for opposing QBs in general on the 2018 schedule. It also emboldens my prediction models that the Bengals are going to be a playoff team and a threat to win the AFC North.
This was actually one of the shortest ‘Rewind’ studies I’ve ever done. I usually go back and watch every/almost every play involving the player I’m studying from their prior season…looking for clues and events to make or break my case. In this instance, I was able to shorten my study for three reasons…
1) One Game Told The Story -- Facing The Steelers 2017
It was so obvious from watching his any of his 2017 work that Jackson is one of the best shutdown CBs in the NFL that I didn’t have to keep digging and watching. I could only watch the same play so many times before ‘I got it’ – Jackson presses up on his man and then is like glue on him nearly every play. QBs got the message and were barely throwing his way.
One need look no further than Week 13 in 2017 – Bengals vs. Steelers. Everything you want to know about Will Jackson is in this game.
To set the scene: Inexplicably, 12 games into the season, Will Jackson is not starting for the Bengals. I’ll get into that more in a moment. Cincy is starting Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. On the first series of play plays for the Bengals D, Jones gets hit hard and crumples to the ground…lost for the game. The Bengals are then ‘forced’ to play Jackson 90% of the snaps in the game, and he promptly goes out and shuts down anything and everyone in his path.
At first, Martavis Bryant is lining up on Will Jackson…and WJax is always on the right-hand side of the field in coverage. Bryant goes out vs. Jackson for several snaps. Antonio Brown is on the other side destroying Dre Kirkpatrick. Big Ben takes a couple looks at Bryant v. Jackson, but nothing is ever there.
It doesn’t take but a series or so for the Steelers to have the bright idea that the Bengals are not switching their CBs around to cover Brown, or anyone else. Now, Antonio Brown goes out against Jackson all the time, for a spell, to expose the weakness of the inexperienced corner. Ben tries to find Brown a few times…no luck. On one particular play, Brown beats Jackson off the snap with a nice move and sprints deep for a long TD pass potential. Ben sees it early and heaves it out there. Brown has 1–2 steps on Jackson right away. By the time the ball lands in Browns arms, 30+ yards downfield in the end zone, Jackson had caught up and timed his arm just right to rip the ball away from Brown as he landed for what looked like a TD. It was a great finishing move by Jackson, but it also overshadowed the scintillating recovery ability of Jackson’sJackson. Jackson’s 4.37 40-time at the 2016 NFL Combine wasn’t lying.
It doesn’t take long for Ben and Brown to realize Will Jackson is a no-fly zone and Brown switches to the other side to face Kirkpatrick (and scored his TD for the game against him) and the Steelers sacrifice Martavis Bryant back to Will Jackson the rest of the game (Bryant winds up with 40 yards). Big Ben has little interest in testing Jackson with Bryant, and he goes back to abusing Kirkpatrick with Antonio Brown.
Besides an underneath pass or two, Jackson did not yield anything of note to Brown or Bryant of note.
Jackson parlayed the Steelers performance into becoming a starter the rest of the season. I watched him against the Vikings in Week 15, and same deal – they pushed Stefon Diggs on him and Jackson took him out. They tried Thielen a few times, and Jackson wouldn’t let him breathe. Case Keenum figured it out/knew it ahead and shied away. Thielen and Diggs both had just 30 yards each in the game total, arguably their worst results together in two seasons.
I just stopped watching play-by-play of Jackson after the Steelers arrival game against the Steelers and checking on him versus Diggs-Thielen. I saw Jackson live and on re-watches last season as it happened and was crowing about it ahead of the crowd. I saw it as it happened. I saw it back in college (and I’ll touch on that). I saw it again here on the ‘Rewind’ study – Will Jackson is arguably one of the 3–4 best cover cornerbacks in the league right now.
2) What The Hell Were The Bengals Thinking?
One of the reasons I’m afraid to love the Bengals too much for 2018 is because that they are one of the worst worst-coached teams, personnel decision-wise, in the NFL. So much talent butchered…sat on the bench in favor of lesser talented players. Rex Burkhead just wasted away for years. Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill were a terrible tandem,tandem; so many better talents out there. Worst of all – how do you possess Will Jackson and not start him right away?
Jackson was playing 30–50% of the snaps in games until an Adam Jones injury forced him to play near nearly a whole game Week 13, and we watched him shut downdown everything including the leagues league’s best WR. How could the Bengals not see/know this sooner?
I only glanced at Jackson’s earlier game tape in 2017 season because he was not a starter/main part of a plan. From the Week 13 Pittsburgh game on on, he finally got respect respect, and we could watch him as more starter/guy QBs avoided. Watching him from Week 13 on – it was gold.
3) College Will Jackson…
I remember scouting Will Jackson back in his Houston days, and that was a very tough defense back in Jackson’s day…a lot to do with Jackson as ‘the guy’. Back in 2016, I noted Jackson as a very talented, very bold CB who might struggle adjusting at first to the NFL because he gets too aggressive, too confident.
Jackson missed his rookie season with an ACL, so he did get a year of experience in the NFL somewhat studying/experiencing/maturing under his belt. They team certainly brought him along slowly in 2017. Whether he got enough time to mature or he was just great regardless, Jackson was controlled aggressive when he became a starter in 2017 – and he was dominant.
I would also note, studying Will Jackson in college was how I found Robby Anderson and why we rated Robby so much further ahead of any other scouting service. I watched Anderson vs. Jackson in the AAC championship game and it was an absolute war. I already had studied Jackson enough to know he was a great college CB, and legit NFL prospect…I then watched Anderson tear him apart for 12 catches and 150 yards with a TD. Those two nearly got in a fist-fistfight every other play, in part,part because Anderson was beating Jackson a bunch, but Jackson was having his moments as well. It’s the only time I’ve seen Jackson defeated overall.
Jackson was not defeated in the NFL in 2017.
Jackson has the measurables (6′0″/190/4.37 40-time) to be a good NFL corner, but that’s that, combined with his great mirroring ability, technique, and aggressive aggressive, almost arrogant style of confident play play, to make makes him a top shutdown CB in the NFL.
The only question I have for fantasy projections in 2018+ is – will they move Will Jackson around in 2018 or will he stay on the right-hand side only? How you see/project Julio Jones Week 4 or Antonio Brown Week 6, etc., very much depends upon whether Jackson can be avoided by #1 WRs by going to the left side…or not. We may not know the answer until Week 1–2 of the regular season.
The one answer I do know without a shadow of a doubt – Will Jackson is a shutdown corner right here, right now.
*The 2018 Draft Guide package of reports and ever-updating projections/rankings are now available from the FFM home page. Fantasy Football Metrics