Kareem Jackson Challenging for Best Free-Agent CB of 2015 Class

Rivers McCown@riversmccownNFL AnalystFebruary 12, 2015

Houston Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson (25) runs back an interception as Baltimore Ravens tight end Owen Daniels (81) and wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) defend during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

One of the most intriguing storylines of 2015's free agency is how the cornerback crop will shake out. There are a lot of adequate-to-solid cornerbacks. But there's also not a singular elite star like Darrelle Revis last season. What this means, in a vacuum, is that teams will instead focus their money on the best of who actually made it to free agency. 

What this means is that Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson is going to get paid. 

Jackson, the 20th overall pick by Houston in 2010, has had a career marked by inconsistency. In his rookie season, the Texans benched Jackson often. This, despite Jackson playing for one of the worst pass defenses of the modern NFL. The Frank Bush-coordinated disaster finished dead last in passing defense DVOA, via Football Outsiders. And that's with the rating weighed up by the debacle I can only refer to as "The Rusty Smith Game." 

By 2012, Jackson was starting only because nobody else could. The Texans have a habit of sticking with players their evaluation crew believes in. Often against all statistical odds (see: Brown, Duane; Newton, Derek). And again, time proved them right. 

Jackson's 2012 season was miraculous. This was a corner who enabled Seyi Ajirotutu's career with his play in 2010. He finished 12th in Success Rate among all qualified cornerbacks, per Football Outsiders Almanac 2013. Pro Football Focus gave him the seventh-highest coverage rating of any cornerback. He did all this as the Texans had to hide a hobbled Johnathan Joseph with a lot of off-coverage. It was a valuable and mind-boggling performance from a player on whom fans had given up. 

Then, in 2013, it was right back to the same old Jackson. The Success Rate dropped from 12th to 81st. PFF gave him a negative grade as well. The roller coaster peaked again in 2014. Head coach Bill O'Brien gave Jackson more snaps in the slot. Jackson rebounded with the seventh-highest coverage grade per PFF

Kareem Jackson by Advanced Stats
YearSuccess Rate (Rk)Targeted (Rk)PFF Pass CoveragePFF QB Rating
201047% (68)74 (40)-10.3111.8
201145% (67)55 (65)-9.5111.4
201259% (12)86 (41)+13.469.6
201342% (81)76 (78)-4.3106.5
2014not availablenot available+9.674.1
Sources: Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus

This was a humongous year for Jackson's free-agency prospects. Good tape in two of the past three seasons is a big selling point for his agent. Mix in a first-round pedigree. Blend in the fact that Jackson, at 27, is still in his prime. Let this set in a down free-agent cornerback market. This recipe should generate a lot of money for Jackson.

Rotoworld regards Byron Maxwell as the top corner on the unrestricted free-agent market. Jackson actually belongs with him when you look at it with a measured eye. The two of them are the same age. Maxwell played worse by empirical measures than Jackson last season. Maxwell played ahead of the best safety tandem in the league: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Jackson played ahead of the remains of Danieal Manning and journeyman Kendrick Lewis. 

Kareem Jackson versus Byron Maxwell
YearsPlayerPFF Pass CoveragePFF QB Ratings
2012-2014Byron Maxwell+10.452.4, 57.8, 78.5
2012-2014Kareem Jackson+18.769.6, 106.5, 74.1
Source: Pro Football Focus

I think there's a case that Jackson is the better player. Maxwell, by the way, won't stay in Seattle given the market. Read between the lines. Seahawks general manager John Schneider admitted to a local radio station (h/t The Seattle Times) that Maxwell is all but gone:

Based on what the landscape looks like from our eyes, he would be very highly sought after. Now, are we going to give it a good ride and try to do what we feel is appropriate for our organization and try to keep him? Absolutely. Is it going to be good enough? I can’t answer that. I really don’t know. ... Where his market goes, I think should be extremely high. Whether or not we’ll be able to keep him, I’m not sure. But we’re going to do whatever we can to try to do that.

The Texans face a similar predicament with Jackson. They may have to choose between him and Joseph. 

I'm expecting that Jackson will be looking at about the same contract Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie settled for last offseason. 

Whether the Texans will be the team that gives it to him depends on factors beyond Jackson's control. Houston must decide what they choose to do with Joseph and receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson's production declined last season, and he's owed quite a bit of money

I think if the Texans let Jackson reach free agency, he's a goner. There are just too many teams with a need at cornerback. And if some of them see Jackson like I see him, a bidding war could ensue. 

The Texans don't need to re-sign Jackson to have a great offseason. But if they don't, they'll join the cast of those with a need at the position. They'll have a hard time finding a player with Jackson's combination of youth, talent and production.

After his first two seasons, that paragraph felt strange to write.

All DYAR and DVOA numbers cited are courtesy of Football Outsiders. Learn more about DVOA here.
 
Rivers McCown is the AFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Three-Cone Drill podcast. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.

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