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Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson listed as top defensive free agent in the NFL

Related: J.C. Jackson laments lack of contract negotiations with Patriots, but shows willingness to play on franchise tag

NFL: NOV 28 Titans at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After spending the first three years on an undrafted rookie deal and the 2021 season on the second-round restricted free agency tender, J.C. Jackson is in line for a major payday now. The New England Patriots’ number one cornerback, after all, is one of the league’s best players at his position and set to become an unrestricted free agent in mid-March.

If allowed to enter the open market — the Patriots could use the franchise tag to keep him in the fold if no extension is signed before March 8 — Jackson will receive his fair share of contract offers. After all, he is arguably the best defensive player to hit free agency this year.

One writer making that case is Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar, who listed the NFL’s top 30 defensive free agents. Jackson tops the list.

1 J.C. Jackson, CB, New England Patriots

Jackson has been one of the NFL’s most underrated players for a few years now, and he plies his trade at a crucial position. ... Jackson has been more proficient in man coverage throughout his career, but he’s also kept things together as the Patriots have moved from a more man-heavy set of concepts in 2019. He should be the most sought-after free agent in this class unless the Patriots decide to give him that long-term deal, or apply the franchise tag. There should be no question at this point regarding his ability to clamp down without help.

Even with former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore no longer lining up on the other side of the field, Jackson produced possibly the finest season of his career. Appearing in all 18 of New England’s games, he gave up only 54 catches on 103 targets for a combined 724 yards as well as three touchdowns and eight interceptions.

No player in the league has intercepted as many passes as Jackson since he arrived in 2018. The 25-year-old, who has earned the nickname “Mr. INT,” has picked off a combined 25 passes in four seasons. His big-play abilities and coverage skills make him one of the best cornerbacks in football.