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Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson believes he improved a lot from his rookie year, points out that individual goals ‘do not matter’

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Related: Pats Pulpit Podcast Episode 185: Patriots season ends with a whimper against the Titans

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

While unanimous All-Pro selection and Defensive Player of the Year-candidate Stephon Gilmore understandably made most of the headlines this season, his running mate as one of New England Patriots’ top options at outside cornerback cannot go unnoticed either: J.C. Jackson may have finished his second year in the NFL without Super Bowl ring number two, but he still ended it as one of the most productive cornerbacks in all of football.

While he opened the season as the number three perimeter option behind Gilmore and veteran Jason McCourty, the former undrafted free agent proved right away that he was in the process of building on what was already an impressive rookie season. And when McCourty injured his groin in November and as a result was only able to play eight more snaps for the remainder of the season, Jackson jumped into the starting spot and held down the fort.

“Obviously I improved a lot from my rookie year,” the 24-year-old said earlier this week after New England’s season-ending playoff loss against the Tennessee Titans while pointing out that he was able to reach some of the individual goals he set for himself. “That’s one of my goals, not to allow a touchdown. [...] Just playing defensive back, that’s one of the more harder jobs on the field, and to not give up a touchdown, that’s pretty solid.”

“I accomplished a lot of individual goals but at the same [time], we fell short. My individual goals don’t even matter at this point,” Jackson added. Despite the Patriots eventually being pushed from the playoff race by the Titans on wild card weekend, however, the second-year defender can look back on a productive season that brought him one step closer to truly becoming one of the league’s best young cornerbacks.

After all, Jackson was targeted 57 times during the year but allowed only 22 completions for a combined 208 yards. On top of it all, he also finished the year with five interceptions and an additional six pass breakups for a defensive passer rating of just 12.9. For comparison, if a quarterback throws every one of his pass attempts incomplete into the dirt, he automatically earns a rating of 39.6. Statistically, doing that is a better option than targeting Jackson.

Of course, not all was perfect for the Maryland product and there is still room for growth if he wants to achieve the same status as an elite cornerback that Gilmore enjoys. After all, Jackson was tied for the Patriots’ defensive lead with six drawn penalties — something that was a problem for him during his rookie season as well: he was flagged for pass interference on five different occasions, as well as one hold and one illegal contact.

The good did clearly overshadow the bad, however. For example, Jackson also made an impact on special teams and registered a blocked punt against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4 that resulted in a touchdown. It is therefore no surprise that New England head coach Bill Belichick praised the sophomore defender when speaking about him after his two-interception performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

“He’s really built on his awareness on his overall fundamentals and techniques. Those two plays he made on the ball were both extremely good plays. He’s done a really good job in his growth and development and improvement on the little fundamental things of his game,” said Belichick about a player that has continued to show major potential in New England’s system and that could get more than just two All-Pro votes next year.