As the debate rages over how high prospects like Jalen Ramsey and Carson Wentz should go in the NFL draft, teams picking late in the first round should be hoping to land William Jackson III.
Jackson is not rated as highly as Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, who both come from programs with bigger brands.
The former Houston cornerback didn’t benefit from the attention that comes with playing in a Power Five conference. Despite going 13-1 and winning the Peach Bowl last season, not many people watched the Cougars for most of the year.
Jackson’s unique combination of size, speed and coverage skills, however, makes him one of the best defensive backs in this draft.
Physically, he has everything a team could want in a corner. He has the size at 6’0" to match up with the biggest receivers on most teams. He’s also long and can easily get his arms into passing lanes.
He ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. That’s a great time for anyone, let alone a cornerback of his size.
Yet, Jackson’s skills in coverage are what make him more than a physical talent. Jeff Dooley of Pro Football Focus writes that Jackson is “possibly the best pure cornerback prospect in this class.”
That analysis is based on how he combines those physical tools with great play recognition and technique in coverage.
Jackson reads plays very well. He can diagnose when a pass is coming his way and uses his speed to jump routes and break up throws or grab interceptions.
Here against Temple in 2014, Jackson sees where the pass is going and darts in front of it for an easy interception. His speed lets him return it for a touchdown without a problem.
When he can’t get a pick, he has a knack for breaking plays up. He consistently manages to either get a hand in to deflect the pass or land a hit and knock it loose.
Watch this play against Temple from 2015 as he closes on the wideout before the pass is even in the air. That combination of play recognition and speed means the ball has no chance when it finally arrives.
His ball skills are solid too. He gets good positioning in one-on-one coverage and highpoints the ball.
On this play against Temple in 2014, he forces Brandon Shippen toward the sideline and doesn’t give up any separation. He gets his head around to find the ball while it’s in the air and times his jump well to make the pick.
Those ball skills are part of the reason he was able to grab seven interceptions over the last two seasons, including five last year. According to Sports-Reference.com, he had the most passes defended in the country in 2015 with 23. Opponents completed 40 percent of their passes when throwing toward him the last two years, according to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.
Some players get drafted based on physical potential alone. The team that drafts Jackson will be getting a player who turned his physical tools into on-the-field production.
Teams like the Steelers at No. 25 and Chiefs at No. 28 would be lucky to grab Jackson. He would fill a major need at cornerback for either team.
Pittsburgh would be a great fit for Jackson. He would be joining second-year corner Senquez Golson, who is back after missing his rookie year with a shoulder injury. With Golson already on the roster and familiar with the scheme, Jackson wouldn’t have to be a No. 1 corner right away.
Jackson’s size would also bring something to the defense Golson does not have. The taller rookie could take responsibility for opponents’ bigger receivers when necessary.
Draft analysts have raved about Ramsey, who could go first overall in this draft. Jackson has been overlooked amid that fanfare. That’s nothing new for Jackson, who played at Trinity Valley Junior College before transferring to Houston. He’s never gotten much attention. Come April 28, though, that will change. Whoever pays enough attention to pick him that day won’t be disappointed.