The New Orleans Saints had to be ecstatic when Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore was still on the board when the team was ready to make the 11th pick of the first round a year ago. Lattimore went on to win the NFL'S Defensive Rookie of the Year, earned a berth in the Pro Bowl, and many already view him as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. His presence helped improve the entire defense, as his ability to lockdown the opposition's top receiver allowed the other New Orleans defenders to make plays elsewhere. Today's draft profile takes a look at one of the NCAA's top playmakers from a year ago, a player that could further solidify one of the NFL's top young secondary units.
Josh Jackson, CB (Iowa)
Jackson went to Lake Dallas High School in Corinth, TX, and was actually recruited to Iowa as a wide receiver. After redshirting his first year, he eventually switched to defensive back, finally becoming a starter towards the end of the 2016 season. Jackson exploded onto the national stage in 2017, leading the nation with 8 interceptions and being among collegiate leaders in pass breakups. He shined on the national stage against Big 10 powers Ohio State and Wisconsin, intercepting 5 passes, returning 2 for scores, and causing a fumble. His standout season earned him unanimous 1st team All-American honors, and put him in the conversation for one of the top cornerbacks in this year's draft. Jackson's draft stock took a bit of a hit with an average performance at the NFL Scouting Combine last month. His 38 inch vertical leap, 6.86 3-cone drill, and 123" broad jump were in the top 10 among participating corners, but some scouts were turned off by his 4.56 40 time. His marks were slightly better at his pro day weeks later, but NFL teams were still essentially left with just one full year of film study on Jackson for analysis.
Jackson is a taller corner that has the physicality to take on the league's bigger wideouts. He shows natural instincts despite his inexperience, and tends to play the ball rather than the man. He reads opposing quarterbacks well, and takes a big and decisive first step to undercut shorter routes to make a play. Jackson shows excellent anticipation, and had a penchant for acrobatic interceptions last season. His size, timing, and leaping ability often give him the advantage on "50/50" balls. Jackson has been most productive in off coverage, preferring to use his aggressiveness and instincts to come up and make a play. He is a little stiff in press coverage at times and can be slow to change direction, but he does have the athleticism necessary to run with most receivers. He's a willing tackler with good fundamentals, but his lean frame can be a detriment when encountering a good blocking wideout or tight end. Jackson's detractors will point out his inexperience, he started just 14 games with the Hawkeyes, and his limited foot speed. He has struggled against smaller, quicker wideouts, and his aggressiveness can make him susceptible to double moves. Jackson's production and playmaking ability in a high profile conference, even in just one full season, will make him an almost certain 1st round selection.
Nfl.com comparison: Josh Norman (Redskins)
The Saints defense was vastly improved a season ago, and a major reason why was the play of their cornerbacks. Not only was Lattimore one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL, but second year UDFA Ken Crawley showed great improvement as well. When both Lattimore and Crawley missed some time at midseason due to injury, the New Orleans defense was torched through the air. Third year player P.J. Williams had some good moments, but was somewhat inconsistent in 2017, and the team signed former Saint Patrick Robinson away from Philadelphia this offseason, re-joining the organization he played for from 2010-14. The 2018 New Orleans schedule is loaded with prolific passing attacks. Teams like the Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, and of course division rival Atlanta require more than one or two quality cornerbacks to defend. A player the caliber of Josh Jackson could team with the talent that New Orleans already has at the position to give the Saints perhaps the best cornerback unit in a pass-oriented NFL.