It’s crazy how you can have no Film but good Combine results and become a top prospect…smh?
— Eddie Jackson (@EJackson_4) April 20, 2017
Safety Eddie Jackson has had a lot of time to think about this draft process. He has been on the shelf since October 22, 2017, a game against Texas A&M, during which he broke his leg. Prior to that 8th game of the season, Jackson was making plays in all phases of the game.
By that time, Jackson, a team captain, had already racked up 253 punt return yards on 11 returns, including two house calls.
Unfortunately, he broke his leg on a punt return and has been grinding to return ever since.
Jackson has been chomping at the bit ever since, and when you turn on film, you can understand why he feels disrespected. He exhibits the speed and change of direction skills of a corner (a position he has played before), which is why Saban and staff felt comfortable allowing him to drop down to cover receivers or tight ends regularly.
He is one of the twitchiest players in this draft. Once he reads the route, he plants and drives hard on the ball. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), from 2014-2016 he gave up just 49.6 percent of completions into his coverage and a QB rating against of 49.9.
Jackson’s play speed is underrated and has been forgotten because of his injury. Flashback to the national championship game versus Clemson and you can see how quickly he reads route combos and displays his ability to make plays on the ball. On this play, Jackson comes off his assignment knowing that QB Deshaun Watson is going to throw to the wheel route. Amazing instincts lead to the interception.
Those kinds of plays happened often, and that is why Jackson finished his career with eight interceptions and seven pass deflections, per PFF. Playing with a talented set of defenders his whole career helped, but having to execute the full array of coverage schemes under Saban also put him in position to make plays. On this play, Alabama plays their cover 3 pattern match defense versus a 3×1 set. The defensive backs are reading the #2 WR to the top of the screen and matching their routes. If the #2 WR runs any sort of out or vertical route past five yards, then the zone coverage will turn to man.
Post snap, the #2 WR indeed runs a vertical route, as does the #3, who then bends it towards the middle of the field. As a result, the coverage turns to man.
This is why cover 3 match is so prevalent in college and the NFL; it helps eliminate the weak spots (seams) versus cover 3 structures. Eddie Jackson is playing center field and the QB makes a mistake by trying to throw it into a tight window to the tight end. Jackson makes him pay.
The most successful safeties in the NFL have a unique blend of athleticism and intelligence. Jackson has those traits, and he shows it on this play. Earlier in the game, Texas A&M attacked the Tide’s coverage with a hitch/wheel combination and secured a big play. They go back to the well, and CB Jones or CB Fitzpatrick blow the coverage, but Eddie Jackson helps erase the mistake.
As Jackson notices the sprint out by the QB, he quickly checks the backside WR to see his route stem. Then it clicks. He has seen this route combination before, so he opens up and shows off his range.
It is pretty clear that Jackson is a cover safety. He’s a guy that can easily fill the roles of a single high or two high safety, and play zone and man coverage. However, an area that he needs to improve is his tackling. On average, he has missed 10 tackles a season. Don’t get me wrong, though. He is willing to stick his nose in there.
With that being said, he is not an enforcer type who will drop the hammer on crossing routes or stick a running back in the hole. Instead, he relies on his speed to chase down and contain running backs when they are bouncing it wide. On this play, his speed and explosiveness are on full display, as he takes a great angle to the ball and helps contain the runner.
In today’s NFL, there aren’t many true strong safeties. Most defensive schemes are predicated upon safeties who can play both the pass and the run — guys who can cover and tackle equally. Jackson’s talent leans more towards the pass and coverage skills, which could cause issues when asked to rotate into the box and become the force defender. His tackling will scare some teams off because he displays bad pad level and passiveness on a lot of his tackles. He is often too high and fails to break down properly. He is not a defender that squares offensive players up and explodes through his hips. Upon contact, he is not bringing much force. So the team that drafts him is definitely prioritizing his coverage skills over his tackling, which is not a bad approach by today’s NFL standards.
Potential Bills Fit:
The Bills’ secondary has been slightly upgraded in the back end. They signed Micah Hyde and Nathan Poyer, two players that offer versatility. Hyde is a proven player, but Poyer has only played in 43.8% of his snaps in his career.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) March 10, 2017
I expect Hyde to eventually slide into the nickel/slot role, which is important, as the nickel package is really the new base defense. If that is the case, then the Bills need another safety who can not only play in two high sets, but a guy who can also hold down the middle of the field as they rotate post snap into cover 3.
That guy is Eddie Jackson. Jackson has the speed and instincts to play zone or man coverage. He can drop down to cover tight ends and receivers in man coverage, whether its versus 2×2 or 3×1 sets, which will allow DC Leslie Frazier to stay in nickel (3 safety looks). He is simply a playmaker. Jackson may have the best ball skills of all of the defensive backs. He is that good. Once he gets the ball in his hands, you can expect him to return it for considerable yardage, if not to the house. Those skills are part of the reason he has been a phenomenal punt returner.
I believe that he is the coverage player that the Bills will need, especially this season, as they continue to rebuild their secondary. This season will be a season of transition, scheme-wise. McDermott will need to play slightly more man or cover-matching coverage, as the Bills’ personnel is fit more for man and the roster lacks athleticism at the linebacker level. Therefore, the cornerbacks and safeties will be carrying the load of responsibility versus the pass. Jackson would help ease the transition. In the end, I have a late second/early third round grade for him, and if it wasn’t for his injury history, then Jackson would go much higher.
Overall Grade 77.723-Late 2nd/Early 3rd.
Other Scouting Reports: