With training camp underway, the New England Patriots currently have 76 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer — just like we did the last three years as well — we will continue to take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with the latest addition to New England’s roster.
Name: Michael Jackson Sr.
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-1, 210 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 ERFA)
What is his experience? Jackson’s experience at the professional level is rather limited considering that he only arrived in the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick last spring, and started his career as a Dallas Cowboys practice squad cornerback before serving in a backup/emergency capacity on the Detroit Lions’ active roster. That being said, he does have plenty of football on his résumé stemming from his four year stint at the University of Miami during which he appeared in a combined 51 games.
Jackson started his career with the Hurricanes primarily as a special teamer — he recovered a fumbled punt return for a touchdown during his second year — and depth cornerbacks before being promoted to a starting job on the defensive perimeter in 2017. Over his final two years at the school, he went on to start 23 of a possible 26 contests while being named to two All-ACC teams (second team 2017, honorable mention 2018) and registering four interceptions as well as three-and-a-half sacks.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off a successful senior year at Miami, Jackson was invited to both the East West Shrine Game and the NFL’s Scouting Combine. He had to sit out the first of the two events because of tendonitis in his left knee, but was otherwise good to go heading into the pre-draft process — running the eight-fastest 40-yard dash at the Combine, for example, at 4.45 seconds. Despite his testing numbers and solid college career, however, Jackson had to wait until the 158th selection to get picked.
The Cowboys added him to a crowded cornerback depth chart, but not necessarily one that was set in stone outside of Pro Bowler Byron Jones. Nevertheless, the rookie failed to carve out a significant role over the course of the summer: after appearing in one preseason game — he played 46 of a possible 72 defensive snaps (64%) and allowed five receptions on six targets — Dallas decided to release Jackson on roster cutdown day. He was not out of a job for long, though, considering that the team quickly added him to its practice squad.
After spending the first eight weeks of the season on the Cowboys’ developmental roster, the Lions signed the youngster to their active team. His playing time did only marginally increase, however, as Jackson was active for just one of Detroit’s regular season games over the final nine weeks of the season: he saw the field in Week 12 against Washington and played two snaps on special teams without registering any statistics. All in all, his first year in the NFL can therefore essentially be classified as a redshirt season.
What is his projected role? When the Patriots acquired Jackson via trade from the Lions for a conditional seventh-round draft choice in 2022, they added him to a cornerback group that was set at the top both on the outside and in the slot. While the second-year man has some experience in both areas, he projects best to serve as a perimeter cornerback in New England’s system: his physicality and length project well in the team’s press-man scheme, while he has also proven himself a reliable tackler in the running game.
What is his special teams value? As noted above, Jackson started his career at Miami primarily in the kicking game — and he was used in the game’s third phase upon his arrival in the NFL as well: his lone two regular season snaps came on punt return and kickoff coverage, while the Cowboys used him on all four coverage teams during the 2019 preseason. The Patriots are also expected to give him extensive looks in the return game.
Does he have positional versatility? Based on his strengths (physicality, size) and weaknesses (footwork, short-area quickness), Jackson projects more favorably on the perimeter than the inside of the formation. That said, he does have some experience playing in the slot as well from his time in Dallas: most of his defensive action last preseason came on the inside. New England is not expected to use him that way, though.
What is his salary cap situation? Jackson arrives in New England on a one-year pact that includes a salary of $675,000 — one that is not high enough to put him on the team’s top-51 list for the time being. Given that his deal also includes no guarantees, this means that the team a) did not lose any salary cap space after the trade, and b) will only carry the 23-year-old on its books after he made either the active roster or the practice squad.
What is his roster outlook? Jackson does have some intriguing developmental traits and fits what the Patriots are looking for at the outside cornerback position, but he still finds himself in a tough spot. Not only does he lack experience in New England’s system (even though Detroit’s is somewhat similar), he also is part of the deepest cornerback group in all of football: Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams are all safe bets to make the 53-man team, which leaves the newest Patriot in a competition against Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross and Myles Bryant. Realistically, Jackson’s best chance of sticking around comes via the practice squad.