‘Sky is the limit’ for a more confident Dane Jackson

06/02/2021
DB+

It’s often said that surrounding oneself with the right people is the key to success.

If this is the case, expect Buffalo Bills cornerback Dane Jackson to have an incredibly prosperous NFL career.

In early April, a video of Jackson putting in offseason work with fellow University of Pittsburgh alumni surfaced on Twitter. The workout was not at all abnormal, as players from around the league often gather in the offseason to further hone their crafts.

It was, however, a bit strange to see Jackson workout alongside Aaron Donald, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who is universally viewed as one of the best players in the NFL.

The video, which captured the attention of the Buffalo faithful for a few days, even caused a few of Jackson’s teammates to turn their heads

“I know you guys saw him training this offseason, who he was training with,” safety Jordan Poyer said while speaking with reporters after Wednesday’s OTA session. “. . . Out there training with Aaron Donald, he motivated me this offseason with some of the training he was doing.”

Though it was certainly eyebrow-raising to see Jackson train alongside a player of Donald’s caliber, his work ethic should not come as a shock to anyone. A seventh-round draft pick needs a strong work ethic in order to make an impact in their rookie season, and though not consistently, Jackson was impactful throughout his debut campaign.

He was there to answer the call when injuries to Levi Wallace and Josh Norman left Buffalo with a hole opposite Tre’Davious White. The former Pitt defensive back showed promise on the boundary, recording 15 total tackles and one interception in five games as a primary practice squad call-up.

Despite being a practice squad player, Jackson graded out as a top-50 player at his position for Pro Football Focus, with his overall defensive grade of 68.4 making him the third-highest graded cornerback on Buffalo’s roster (behind Tre’Davious White and Josh Norman). Subjective grading aside, Jackson also produced in more objective metrics, as despite appearing in fewer than half of Buffalo’s games, he ranked fifth on the team in pass deflections (5).

Buffalo’s brass was impressed with what it saw out of Jackson throughout the 2020 season, with general manager Brandon Beane reiterating numerous times throughout the offseason that he expects Jackson to compete for a starting role this year.

And though we’re just a few days into spring workouts, Jackson already appears to be making the most out of this opportunity.

The defensive back returned to One Bills Drive with a newfound swagger, per defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a refreshed sense of confidence that has already translated to on-field success.

‘I was teasing him yesterday, it just seems like he’s more confident,” Frazier told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s still early, we’re only in our fifth OTA practice today, but I can see how he’s handling himself in the meetings, the way he carries himself in practice. He’s not that shy rookie that I saw when we had camp a year ago, that guy who didn’t say two words, and you had to pull him upfront to just get to know him a little bit. Now he’s out there high-fiving, talking with his teammates, laughing and joking.

“It’s a good thing. He’s comfortable with his teammates, and that should allow him to go out and just play free and enjoy the experience.

And just as Frazier projected, Jackson’s confidence has allowed him to make plays in practice. According to Poyer, one of the first plays of Wednesday’s practice session was a one-on-one rep between Jackson and Stefon Diggs, the NFL’s reigning leader in receptions and receiving yards.

A seventh-round draft pick vs. an All-Pro. David vs. Goliath.

The victor?

“First play out there today, I think he had a one-on-one rep with Diggs, and he broke up the pass,” Poyer said.

Recent press aside, Jackson is far from the favorite to win Buffalo’s No. 2 cornerback job – that goes through Levi Wallace, who has held onto the role since the 2018 season.

And with his newfound confidence, his teammates like his chances.

“That dude can play,” Poyer said. “He’s only going to gain his confidence the more he plays. I think the sky is the limit for that dude.”

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