LSU cornerback Donte Jackson has plenty of playing experience in the most competitive conference in all of college football, and that has NFL teams believing that he can play an integral part of a defense at the next level. The junior has appeared in 35 games over the course of three seasons playing in the slot, boundary corner, and even safety.
The 5′ 10 1/2″ corner weighed in at 178 pounds at the combine, but it’s pretty clear that his size did not limit his production.
He was in on 110 tackles and hauled in 4 interceptions to go along with 19 pass deflections over his career. That’s because his 4.32 40-yard dash and change of direction are rare. He is your prototypical man mirror corner with a dash of feistiness. He has the feet and change of direction to run with anyone. In off coverage, he has the closing speed to jump the quick game, but he also knows when the receiver is breaking his cushion and he can seamlessly open his hips and run with 9 routes. Overall, I believe he is more comfortable in press man coverage, and this is because it allows him to use his hands and feet to stay on top of routes. He is the type of corner that likes to suffocate route stems and close them off completely. LSU defensive backs are typically technically sound players, and Jackson isn’t any different.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda played an array of mixed coverages, which can start off as zone but turn to man, and also where the slot corner will work in tandem with a safety or linebacker. Jackson has shown the ability to diagnose route combinations, turn the zone coverage into man coverage, and close on the receivers or pass the threat on to the safety or linebacker. His level of speed helps close down the middle of the field, the area where a lot of offenses like to attack. Plus, he has the mentality that you want in your slot corner: willing to fill the alley on runs or blitz and use his speed to get to sack the quarterback.
While he has elite speed, sometimes he trusts it too much. Several times a game Jackson could be seen giving receivers too much cushion, as if he is baiting the quarterback to throw his way. He is also very reactive during the drive phase of a receiver; he will react with his top notch suddenness and it can put him out of position on double moves. He was saved a few times last year because of safety help, or his teammates got the sack, even though Jackson was burned on a double move. Receivers were also able to separate at the top of routes, due to Jackson peeking into the backfield. His speed saved him a few big plays, but that bad habit will put him on the bench on Sundays.
Finally, his lack of size and arm length is could be an issue.
His 29 1/2″ arm length puts him in the 1st percentile and could create issues at the catch point at the next level.
Overall, Jackson graded out as a 4.772, which is a 2nd round talent that can play in the slot immediately. In 2017 he played 270 snaps as a slot defender, so it is a role that he is familiar with. If he can add a few more pounds, I think he could compete outside in year two or three.
LSU vs. Auburn
CB Donte Jackson--Kick, six inch motor mirror, lean and press..Jackson completely shuts this route down. pic.twitter.com/V2bhyl7MwC— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 7, 2018
Gotta see your target and wrap up, and you sure as heck can't let the runner get through that mess. Make that hole cloudy. pic.twitter.com/Qc8z13IyoR— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 7, 2018
Jackson in the slot, gets caught peeking in the backfield a little too long. You can see him reaching to attempt to disrupt. pic.twitter.com/09hpApwy9L— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 7, 2018
Good job of opening up before the WR breaks the cushion, turns and gets back in phase and into the WR. No problem turning and running with guys. pic.twitter.com/UdqI1dcMsr— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 7, 2018
Hmmmm..Jackson in the slot vs a shifty, option route runner?? Who needs that kind of corner? Look at the twitch in Jackson's feet and COD. pic.twitter.com/foaoelpBHi— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 7, 2018
It appears like they may be pattern matching again. Both slots get vertical so it turns to man. Jackson gives too much space to receivers almost as if he is baiting QBs and or he just trusts his closing speed. Well, that speed was helpful here. Closes and makes the deflection. pic.twitter.com/1wcXhlU3Su— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 7, 2018
Speed from a corner is incredibly important at helping protect the middle of the field. This is a situational play bc its near the end of the game and they are giving the MOF up, but he still closes. pic.twitter.com/mRVC6MsYNx— Cover 1 (@Cover1) April 7, 2018
LSU vs. Alabama
Jackson isn’t the only one that trusted his speed; his coordinator did, as well. He played a lot of off coverage from the slot. He has the speed to close on any quick game, but also the ability to match any multiple breaking routes.
But the versatility in his game shows in the next coverage. On this play, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda disguises the play as a double A-gap blitz and man free coverage. But post-snap, it is actually a pattern matching coverage between the field linebacker, the slot player Jackson and safety. As the #2 receiver runs the route past the linebacker level and breaks in, the safety overtakes the route and Jackson drops deep. Seems easy, but if that receiver would have run a seam route or deep corner or out, the coverage would have turned to man coverage with Jackson carrying the route (seen later). So, in essence, it is a zone coverage by those defenders that turns to man.
Jackson gets burned on the next play by WR Calvin Ridley. While his speed in off coverage can help him squeeze versus the quick game, when in off coverage, routes with multiple breaks give him trouble. Ridley sells the over route and then breaks to the sideline and is wide open. Fortunately for Jackson, the green dog blitz by the linebacker gets to the quarterback.
This is where he is the most comfortable: in press man coverage. He uses the motor mirror technique and as soon as the receiver declares his release, Jackson matches it. He still gives a little too much room as the receiver commits to the in breaking route. In the NFL, that receiver is open.
Another 3rd down call with Jackson in the slot pattern matching against a 3×1 set. This time, the #2 receiver runs a vertical route, so he must carry it.
On this 3rd down call it looks like Jackson, who is aligned into the boundary, is either playing a trap technique OR simple cover 2 (cloud) responsibilities. Alabama motions Ridley to help ID the coverage, and post-snap he runs an out route. Jackson jumps it, but the safety wasn’t prepared to rotate or overtake the route by the #1 receiver.
On this play, Jackson is matched up versus Ridley in the slot. As Ridley slants inside, Jackson’s eyes look to his inside help, who is the linebacker, in case the route carries over the middle. But in that brief second, Ridley breaks back outside and is wide open. Whether his eyes are focused on the QB, neighboring defenders, or the route being run by the receiver, there are times where he struggles to pair his eyes and feet together.
I am not a big fan of his zone spacing on this play. As he drops to his area with his eyes on the QB, you see his feet stall and he seems to be out of position. BUT, as the inferior QB attempts to throw the out route, he has the speed to take a good enough angle to get in the passing window and get his hand on the ball to force 4th down.
LSU vs. Arkansas
Jackson is in off coverage in the slot and Arkansas tries running a sprint out, but Jackson works over the top and shuts it down. Good awareness to not get picked off.
From time to time Jackson would align at the safety position. Here he is working with the slot corner to shut down the middle of the field. He does a good job of driving on the in-breaking route.
Finally, we get to see Jackson make an open field tackle. Here the offense motions and forces Jackson to step up and crack-replace the force defender. The WR motions down, blocks the force defender, and Jackson does a great job of holding the D-gap until the RB bounces. Then Jackson closes and finishes the back off.
Jackson is sent on the corner blitz from the slot – ouch.
At times, Jackson has trouble reading the body language of a receiver. Defensive backs must be able to read a receivers’ body language, how they run, the speed at which they run routes, areas that they can attack leverage-wise, and any cues that a receiver is going to break. Jackson doesn’t sense the in-breaking route coming and gives him incredibly way too much space.
Jackson played a lot of safety this game. Here he comes downhill, breaks down, and makes the tackle. I would like to see him wrap up better than that, but I do like the fire he plays with, as long as he doesn’t get flagged.
Love his click-and-close mentality, but he has to take a better angle and come under control when he is going to make the tackle. This was 3rd-and-1 and would have been a great stop.
Leverages the ball well, but doesn’t wrap up. His tackling technique needs a lot of work.
His speed and feet keep him in plays versus the quick game. His hand technique and overall disruption skills need refinement, but there are tools to work with. Probably got away with a tug here, but he was in the play.
These are the kinds of plays that get you excited. You know he has the speed to run with anyone, the ability to mirror a receiver, but to see him bail, ‘Saban shuffle,’ read the depth of the QB’s drop, then break on the ball like this, really shows you why teams are interested in him. His ball skills are pretty bad, though. Nineteen pass deflections in three seasons isn’t bad, but you can see why he only hauled in four interceptions. This was probably a pick six.
On this play, he does a good job of cutting off and disrupting the route during the drive phase, but at the top of the route he peeks into the backfield and his feet stall. At the same time, the receiver breaks inside and creates separation. Fortunately for Jackson, the pressure on the QB makes the throw difficult. There was no need for him to be looking in the backfield, but if he is going to, he has to have a good feel of the route intentions. Eyes in the backfield at the top of and late in routes can be an issue for him.
LSU vs. Florida
Jackson comes in on the second drive and is in man coverage to the boundary. As the offense attacks the intermediate area, Jackson looks to be in a decent trail tech, but he’s bumped off by his teammate.
More off coverage vs. 3×1 sets. Jackson turns and runs with the WR and the receiver stabs hard outside, and you can see Jackson lower his hips expecting the offensive player to break outside. But the WR then breaks to the post, which created a huge cushion.
Need to see more of this tackling technique, but Jackson evades the block with his explosive feet and agility, then snags a leg for the tackle.
On this play, Jackson’s assignment (#1 receiver) stays in and blocks, so he continues dropping. Then he and safety Delpit rotate perfectly.
Jackson is aligned in the slot and steps up and wraps up the running back. Need to continue to see more of this if he is going to play in the slot on Sundays.
Jackson is reading the receiver, but as the WR breaks he peeks at the QB, almost as if he is afraid of a double move. That brief second takes away from his break on the ball.
Jackson is in good shape early but gets caught flat-footed, but he lands a beautiful strike, which gives him enough time to peek at the QB while transitioning. Then he just cuts off the route completely.
Very good job containing the running back and wrapping him up.
Jackson is pretty good at knowing where he needs to be in order to make a play on the ball. This comes in handy when he wants to bait QBs. The QB is staring the receiver down but Jackson doesn’t flash into the passing lane until the throw is en route.
Jackson gets burned on this out-and-up. Mark it down; double moves and multiple breaks are his kryptonite.
What an incredible play from the slot. He quickly reads run, smashes the tight end while spilling the play, but keeps his head in the play to make the tackle.
LSU vs. Ole Miss
Jackson is in off man coverage and reads the throttle down of the receiver and quickly breaks on the ball. His feet explode after he plants.
Another solid tackle from Jackson as a slot defender. Clears the wide receiver screen then fills the alley by snatching a leg.
Simply put, one of Jackson’s strengths is his ability to pattern match as the slot defender. LSU eliminates the outside WR by putting the CB in man coverage, then lets Jackson and the safety read the #2 WR (actually the #3). He runs a short out route and Jackson jumps it.
Ole Miss attempts to get Jackson on a double move, but the WR stumbles and Jackson is able to stay with him. What is most impressive to me is the hand fighting that he carries out with the WR and the ability to track the ball.
Jackson bites hard on the double move and grabs the receiver but is able to recover and help make a play on the ball. You can see once he recovers he still gives the receiver a little too much room to operate.
Not a bad play by Jackson here, but wanted to show him rotating to a single high look because of motion. He is then looked off by the QB and the ball is thrown deep. Shows off his athleticism and fluidity in his hips.
Watch how he sinks his hips, drives on the WR, and wedges him while cutting off the route.
You can’t break any better on the ball than this, but my issue is the tackle. He comes in a little high, and if you don’t have the force or grip, WRs will break the tackle.