When it comes to undrafted cornerbacks, the New England Patriots have the Midas touch. From Randall Gay, to Malcolm Butler, to Jonathan Jones, the team has found some core contributors in rookie free agency throughout the years. The latest of the group is no less impressive: J.C. Jackson has become one of the NFL’s best young cornerbacks ever since the Patriots picked him up after he did not hear his name called during the 2018 draft.
After helping New England win the Super Bowl in his first season, he took on an even prominent role in Year Two — one he continued to play during Sunday’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins: Jackson was on the field for 46 of the Patriots’ 62 defensive snaps and allowed just two receptions on five targets. On top of his strong coverage performance, he also registered the game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter.
After he preserved New England’s 21-11 victory, Jackson also was presented with a game ball. As a behind-the-scenes clip released by the Patriots on Tuesday shows, Bill Belichick singled out the 24-year-old in his locker room speech following the game:
"We have to continue to overcome adversity. That's going to be the name of this season. That's what kind of year it's been."— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 15, 2020
Slate breaks down the huddle after after a Week 1 . pic.twitter.com/ZFjv6iIBcT
“That was a good team win. We got good contributions from all three phases, everybody contributed there. [...] Had a lot of guys step up today, one guy in particular,” said Belichick before presenting Jackson with the game ball and telling him to “get ready to be a dad.”
The locker room was not the only time Belichick praised the third-year cornerback on Sunday. He also spoke glowingly about Jackson’s contributions in his postgame media conference call. While answering a question about the defensive backfield’s performance — the group had three interceptions as a whole on the day — New England’s head coach again pointed to Jackson and what he brought to the equation.
“I really take my hat off to J.C.,” Belichick said. “I thought J.C. really competed well today. He showed a lot of mental toughness and a real competitiveness of the game, and then for him to make that play at the end just sealed the win, along with the run that we had there to get the first down to run out the clock. But the interception that J.C. had in the end zone, I thought he showed a lot of mental toughness and a high level of competitiveness in today’s game. So, I just wanted to personally congratulate him for that because that was good.”
It is obvious that Belichick feels strongly about Jackson and his role on the team. How this relationship with the defender evolves heading towards restricted free agency next spring will be interesting to watch, and could have an enormous impact on the makeup of the Patriots’ defense for years to come. For the time being, however, Jackson continues to do what he has done ever since his rookie years: make plays.