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J.C. Jackson’s undrafted rookie season compares favorably to ex-Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler’s

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Can the current Patriots cornerback find similar success like the former Patriots cornerback?

NFL: New England Patriots at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Over the years, the New England Patriots have had plenty of success with undrafted free agents. No fewer than nine players on the current 53-man roster — including starting center David Andrews and special teams standout Brandon King — did not hear their names called on draft day but were subsequently signed by the Patriots. Before them, contributors like Adam Vinatieri, Matt Chatham and Randall Gay also joined the team this way.

The gold standard when it comes to undrafted rookie success, however, remains Malcolm Butler. Joining the Patriots as a free agent out of West Alabama in 2014, Butler went on to make one of the biggest plays in NFL history to cap his first year in the league: in the final seconds of Super Bowl 49, the then-rookie famously undercut a goal line pass by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to preserve New England’s 28-24 win.

Butler was voted to the Pro Bowl one year later, and went on to win another championship with the Patriots in 2016 before leaving the team as a high-priced free agent earlier this year. Few if any undrafted stories are written like Butler’s — but one that has the potential to one day find at least somewhat similar success is that of J.C. Jackson, who is currently in his first year in the NFL after the Patriots added him via free agency in May.

After standing out during spring and training camp practices, the Maryland product found his way onto New England’s active roster and his since saw his role grow considerably — to a point at which the team trusted him to shadow Pittsburgh Steelers’ standout wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster during Sunday’s game. Jackson held up well and surrendered just three catches for 39 yards on nine targets.

It was the latest in a string of solid performances for the rookie — and it leads to the question: how well does he hold up when compared to Malcolm Butler’s rookie campaign 15 weeks (= 14 games) in? A look at the numbers shows: very well.

Malcolm Butler vs. J.C. Jackson

Player Games Playing Time Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Player Games Playing Time Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Malcolm Butler 9 14.3% 24 13 238 2 0 116.3 1
J.C. Jackson 11 30.1% 35 16 181 0 2 37.9 2

As can be seen, Jackson has seen far more exposure than Butler at this point in their respective careers. This does not come as too big a surprise: Butler played behind one of the NFL’s best starting duos in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and alongside established depth players like Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan. Jackson, meanwhile, is part of a group consisting of Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and fellow rookies Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson.

However, the actual performance numbers clearly speak for Jackson, who has given up slightly more receptions but is far more efficient: his completion percentage is lower as is his yardage and passer rating given up. Furthermore, the present-day rookie has yet to allow a touchdown, while Butler gave up two through week 15. On top of that, Jackson intercepted a pair of passes, while Butler’s first career pick had to wait until the Super Bowl.

Of course, that does not mean that Jackson will one day surpass Butler’s productivity in New England’s defense. However, it shows just how well his career has started and that the coaching staff is apparently thinking very highly of him by trusting him with assignments like Smith-Schuster. All in all, Jackson is on the best way to continuing the proud tradition of Patriots undrafted cornerbacks.