J.C. Jackson entered the NFL without much fanfare. The Maryland product did not hear his name called during the 2018 draft, and subsequently hit the rookie free agent market. When he signed a standard three-year deal with the New England Patriots he received a signing bonus of only $10,000.
Despite his status as an undrafted rookie, he made the Patriots’ 53-man roster out of his first training camp and has not looked back. Three years later, Jackson is now the team’s number one cornerback.
He also is the premier ballhawk in the NFL.
Since his debut in 2018, Jackson has picked off 22 passes — one more than the Miami Dolphins’ Xavien Howard. His ball skills are actually one of the biggest reasons why he is among the best young cornerbacks in all of football, at least according to his head coach.
“I think his ball skills and anticipation are pretty good. High-end,” Bill Belichick said about Jackson earlier this week.
What exactly does he mean by that?
“It’s everything. It’s when to look, picking up the ball. A lot of times his back’s to the ball when it leaves the quarterback’s hands, like the interception he had against the Jets. Plays like that, where a receiver comes out of his break and you’re a defender trying to cover the receiver, and then find the ball, be able to catch it, get his feet down in bounds. Plays like that. That was a pretty good play. He tracks the ball well in the deep part of the field. Anticipates well.”
With Stephon Gilmore traded to the Carolina Panthers, Jackson is now in his first season as New England’s CB1. While he had some ups and downs, he continues to make big plays in the passing game on a regular basis.
Not only has he picked off five throws so far this year, he also has returned one of them for a touchdown: his 88-yard runback against the Panthers in Week 9 was the first score of his career.
When speaking about the play after the game, Jackson was pretty nonchalant: “That’s what I do, man.”
His ability to force big plays in the passing game is one of the main reasons why the Patriots decided to keep the 25-year-old on the second-round restricted free agency tender earlier this year. It also will play a big role in his future: headed for unrestricted free agency, Jackson will be a highly sought-after player if New England is not able to sign him long-term before next March.
No matter what happens, he will be a pretty well-paid player soon. And until then, he will continue to do what he has done throughout his career: live up to his Mr. INT nickname.