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J.C. Jackson had a statistically better rookie season with the Patriots than Malcolm Butler

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Let’s revisit the comparison between the two undrafted rookies.

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Back in mid-December, we posted an article comparing the rookie seasons of Malcolm Butler and J.C. Jackson — two cornerbacks who joined the New England Patriots as undrafted free agents but went on to play considerable roles on the 2014 and 2018 squads, respectively. Back then, the comparison favored Jackson: he played more snaps, allowed a lower completion percentage in coverage, and did not give up a single touchdown.

All in all, Jackson was off to a quicker start into his first NFL season than Butler. The now-Tennessee Titans defensive back, of course, became the benchmark for undrafted rookie play in New England when he made one of the biggest plays in NFL history. The story is well-known: in the late fourth quarter of Super Bowl 49, the little-known Butler intercepted Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the goal line to preserve the Patriots’ 28-24 win.

Fairly or not, Butler’s first NFL campaign will therefore still reign supreme when compared to most — if not all — other rookie seasons with the Patriots: the West Alabama product made the play to secure a championship, and him undercutting the route to win the Super Bowl is as legendary a moment as any in the history of the league. Jackson, of course, does not have that enormous a play on his rookie résumé.

That being said, the overall comparison between him and Butler still paints an interesting picture as a look at the numbers show:

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 14 17.0% 34 19 317 3 1 104.7 3
J.C. Jackson 16 44.1% 63 28 374 1 3 49.3 4

As can be seen, Jackson outproduced Butler when comparing the two cornerbacks’ respective rookie seasons. The current Patriots defender saw more passes thrown his way, but allowed a better completion percentage all while giving up only one touchdown compared to three interceptions. Butler, meanwhile, surrendered three scores and one albeit historic pick. Generally, however, he was not as efficient a defensive back as Jackson.

The 2018 rookie has also seen far more action. This does not come as too big a surprise, though: 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, was part of a group consisting of Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and fellow rookies Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson.

Ultimately, both players performed admirably in their first years in the pros and after going unselected during the draft. And both Jackson and Butler helped the Patriots win world championships four years apart — doing it in slightly different ways: Butler, before turning Pro Bowler the following year, played an outstanding title game to cap a rather inconsistent rookie season. Jackson, on the other hand, played at a higher week-to-week level but did not make the play, at least in the context of a Super Bowl.

At the end of the day, both were success stories through one year. It remains to be seen how their subsequent development will compare, but based on the first season Jackson appears to be in an encouraging position: he had a better statistical rookie season than Butler, and was able to also earn a Super Bowl ring. And that, after all, is all that really matters.