Two New England Patriots cornerbacks would touch down among NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2021” on Sunday night.
On Jackson — No. 49
Undrafted by way of Florida, Riverside City College and Maryland, Jackson has gone on to intercept more passes than any member of his 2018 rookie class. And last season, his nine picks ranked second in the league while his 11 combined takeaways marked the most by a player during Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s tenure. Along the way arrived a stretch of five consecutive games with an interception for Jackson, setting a franchise record. The 25-year-old restricted free agent was tendered at the second-round level in March.
Matthew Slater, Patriots special teams captain: “If the ball is in his vicinity, he’s going to catch it. His ability to go out and do that, almost every game it felt like this year, was really impressive. It’s hard to coach a guy to be around the football all the time, and J.C. just has a nose for the ball. He’s just always around the ball. And not only that, when he gets around the ball, he has good enough ball skills, great ball skills, to be able to finish plays. You talk about a ballhawk, a guy’s either got it or he doesn’t. And J.C. has got plenty of it.”
Damien Harris, Patriots running back: “He is a ballhawk. He is always finding the football. To me, the biggest play was just the interception he had against Baltimore right before the half. They threw a ball up trying to give their receiver a chance to see if they could make a play, and then J.C. ended up coming down with the ball. That’s how the year went. It was guys taking a chance on him and seeing if they could put something over the top of him or put something on his head, and every single time he always went up and got it. Seeing the way he does it is truly special.”
Willie Snead IV, Raiders wide receiver: “He’s definitely got hands for a corner, you know? Nine interceptions, man, that’s sometimes unheard of. You can’t help but respect that. Not many people are going to go at Gilmore, and he’s stepped up to the plate.”
On Gilmore — No. 47
The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year finished the 2020 season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn quad in December. Gilmore started each of his 11 appearances prior to then, totaling 37 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble. He stands with four Pro Bowls and a pair of first-team All-Pro selections since entering the league in the first round of the 2012 draft. The South Carolina product turns 31 in September and currently resides on New England’s physically unable to perform list.
Stefon Diggs, Bills wide receiver: “Stephon Gilmore, he’s probably top-three, top-two corner in the league just based off of tape. Watching his ability to move left to right, he can recover well. He’s got good ball skills. He plays in a great system, as well. Well-coached. You can tell that he’s super well-coached, super disciplined in his technique, as well.”
Marlon Humphrey, Ravens cornerback: “He’s got a lot of things that when you cut on the film and watch him, you can take a lot from it and put into your own game. He’s patient at the line. His feet, he’s got really good feet. I was talking to him at the Pro Bowl last year. He’s really a guy that studies the game real well. How is his receiver lined up, split, the hips that come in and out of breaks. As a receiver is running a route, he starts eliminating what routes they can run throughout the route. If he goes past 10 yards, he knows it’s only certain routes you can do there, so he’s already kind of probability-eliminating different routes and everything the guy can run.”
Chris Godwin, Buccaneers wide receiver: “He wants to play press coverage all the time. He’s a real physical guy. As a competitor, you respect that.”
Damien Harris, Patriots running back: “He is determined to go out there and completely eliminate anybody and anything that lines up in front of him. He’s one of those guys that nobody even tries. Nobody even throws at him. His mentality never changes. His persona never changes. He never lets anybody get him out of his zone. And when he’s in his zone, there’s nothing like it.”