The Houston Texans are one week into switching defensive schemes from a 4-3 to the 3-4. With such a transition taking place, many players are undertaking drastic individual changes to either the position they play or the way they play their original one. Glover Quin, Mario Williams and Brian Cushing are just a few examples of these changes.
Even with these players in a state of flux, however, there is one player who is not changing anything and yet is probably the most polarizing figure among Texans fans: Kareem Jackson.
Some would contend that his terrible play was the fault of coaches who thrust him into the starting lineup prematurely, and didn’t do him any more favors by employing a terrible scheme and even worse safeties.
Others believe that they know bad when they see it, and Jackson simply is. What is not up for debate though is that the first overall pick of the Texans in 2010 played terribly in his rookie season.
I myself didn’t know what to think. I tended to believe that the coaches were to blame, but after recently re-watching games from the 2010 season, I started to think I might be using the recently departed and often vilified Frank Bush as a fall man, and Jackson simply didn’t have the talent necessary.
So I decided to do some digging and figure out whether I felt that Kareem Jackson was a victim of circumstance or just lucky to have been drafted so high. More importantly, I wanted to know whether Jackson could be an integral part of Wade Phillips’ defense or go down as a blight on the draft record of Rick Smith.
If Frank Bush and the Texans defensive staff were to blame, then Jackson would have shown promise coming out of college. For help, I consulted two draft experts that I trust implicitly: New Era Scouting founder and Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller and Draft Breakdown’s Aaron Aloysius.
Both had foreboding determinations in their judgments on Jackson prior to the 2010 draft considering what we witnessed last year.
First snippets from Matt’s scouting report on Jackson:
Instincts/Recognition: Jackson could improve here a good deal. Too often he got burned on double moves to the outside. Because of his lack of great agility, he can be beat on comeback routes and needs to sharpen up his instincts to know when that route may be called. Quickly diagnoses run plays.
Man coverage: Played a lot of bump and run coverage for Alabama. Knows how to properly use his hands to jam at the line. When he can stick with a receiver, he’s aggressive and can re-direct routes. Needs to smooth out his backpedal. Jackson’s feet will get choppy, which causes him to lose receivers deep.
Pursuit: Lacks great speed, which is detrimental to his deep pursuit. Has good enough short-area burst to close when the ball carrier in nearby.Speed: Straight-line speed is solid but not spectacular. Has trouble sticking with shiftier receivers. Uses his physical skills to make up for a lack of speed.
Now from Aaron’s scouting report:
Jackson is a perfect example of why it's important to evaluate prospects based on two or more years of tapes. In '08, Jackson looked eminently beatable downfield. In the bowl game against Utah, receiver David Reed was able to get behind him. And in the LSU game, speedster Demetrius Byrd got plenty of separation; were it not for an errant throw, Myles would have walked into the end zone on a long TD reception.
Also, there were small issues on the '09 tape that may magnify the issue. On occasion, Jackson struggled to jam physical receivers, after which he lacked the explosiveness to recover. One example came in the Arkansas game when receiver Greg Childs knocked him off balance at the line, then hauled in a fade in the end zone. Again, it's important to note that the issue didn't occur all that frequently, but it was enough to scare some draft analysts.
For the flip side of the coin, I watched several of Jackson’s worst games from 2010 in order to determine why he was beat. Very often rookie mistakes were to blame for bad play such as biting on double moves. Additionally, no safeties were there to aid him when this happened.
Other times, however, Kareem’s flubs cam while in simple man coverage. As new secondary coach Vance Joseph noted, Jackson was ok in zone last year but terrible in man. This is significant because man coverage is what Phillips routinely asks of his corners.
What I find disconcerting about this is that Nick Saban, Jackson’s coach at Alabama, primarily employs a press man scheme. If Jackson failed to learn from Saban, who is widely recognized for his ability to train defensive backs, then the argument that Jackson can learn better technique under a new Texans defensive coaching staff seems unsound.
Or maybe he can learn, or my more aptly put, remember. As Matt pointed out, Jackson showed good ability to jam and redirect routes while in college. He utilized this technique often during a brilliant 2009 campaign at Alabama that catapulted him up draft boards and eventually led him to declare for the draft a year early.
It is very possible that getting thrust into the starting lineup and locked into man coverage on some of the best receivers in the league made Jackson forget the talents that made him a first-round pick.
Once your confidence is shattered, it’s not necessarily easy to approach a marquis NFL receiver at the line and physically redirect him. Any self doubt will make this task impossible.
So what is my final judgment on Jackson? Undetermined. That might sound like I’m hedging my bets, but what I’m really saying is that it’s too early to write Kareem off.
I am very aware that no NFL fan wants to admit that his team made a mistake in the first round until it is brutally obvious, but that is not why I still have some measure of optimism about Jackson.
Jackson made his reputation on bump and run man coverage in college, which he suddenly was terrible at during his rookie year. I don’t think that Jackson has the physical tools, namely speed, to be a number one corner in this league but with the signing of Johnathan Joseph, he won’t ever have to be.
It is likely that for Texans fans, Kareem Jackson is now synonymous with the worst pass defense in recent NFL history. Jackson is now the figurehead of the franchise’s worst defense in its short history, but while he cannot be completely exonerated for his play, he is certainly not to blame for the 32nd ranked 2010 pass defense.
Jackson may not be ready for this year. He may not ever be ready, even with the best coaching available. To completely discount him as a possibility based off one bad year would be foolish though, especially his biggest weakness last year was once his strongest talent.
What’s your take on Kareem Jackson? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@JakeBRB).