The Cincinnati Bengals made a bit of a surprise Thursday night when they opted to take a cornerback in Round 1.
While not a position of immediate need, the Bengals did prove once again that they're not a team who drafts based on need, but they select the player who they think is the best available for their system. On Thursday night with pick 24, that was Houston cornerback William Jackson.
This year's draft features a class that, outside of Jalen Ramsey, is lacking both elite talent and depth. However, not only was Jackson was one of the two or three best corners in this draft, but he was also regarded by many as a top-20 prospect, making him good value for where the Bengals got him.
William Jackson III defensed or intercepted 18 passes, while opposing QB's had a 55.6 passer rating throwing into his coverage (13th-lowest)— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 29, 2016
The guys at Pro Football Focus do more scouting and film watching that just about any analyst or website, so when they like someone as much as they like Jackson, I feel really good about this pick. Not only were they very high on the Houston corner prior to the draft, they also called him the fourth-best draft pick of Day 1.
4. William Jackson III, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Our No. 2 cornerback coming off the board at No. 24 overall is a great haul for Cincinnati as they continue to add depth to their secondary. Jackson III has great potential with his 6-foot frame and sub-4.4 speed as well as excellent movement skills and he finished with the No. 2 coverage grade in the draft class last season. He can play any coverage, capable of running with receivers in man and closing on the ball in zone, and perhaps the most intriguing part of his game is the room for improvement combined with already-impressive production. If he can tie up some technique issues, we’re looking at one of the best pure corners in the draft in a few years.
Here's what Kiper had to say of the pick:
Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders and Bleacher Report gave the Bengals an A- grade for their selection of Jackson.
William Jackson III is a natural 6-footer with 4.37 speed who throws his body around. The Houston Cougars used him as a blocker for punt returns at times, and he would chase the gunner back to the returner, nail him at the last second, get up and continue hunting for defenders to hit. What’s not to love?
Not much. Jackson plays the ball well, and while he is not incredibly polished in coverage, he can run with most receivers and reacts quickly in zone coverage. Jackson will whiff on some open-field tackles (see Florida State) and isn’t a bone-crusher in run support. He also draws a lot of clutch-and-grab fouls at a level where the refs allow much clutching and grabbing.
But combine Jackson’s size and speed with effort and instincts, and Cincinnati Bengals coaches will happily work on applying the polish. Jackson is both a talent influx for a defense that is starting to age out and a potential impact player for a team that is perpetually one player away.
ESPN's Steve Muench gave a somewhat favorable review of Jackson landing in Cincinnati.
What he brings: There has been a lot of buzz building around Jackson leading up to the draft. He has excellent top-end speed and the fluidity to turn and run with NFL receivers. Although Jackson doesn't show elite fluidity in space, he has above-average balance and foot speed for a 6-foot-1, 193-pound cornerback. Finally, he has above-average ball skills, and he's a threat to score when he does come down with the ball.
How he fits: In a perfect world the Bengals would have gotten a receiver here and filed a more pressing need, but the value wasn't there with the top four WRs already off the board. Jackson is a good value here and he has the length as well as the speed to excel in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's unit. Corner is also a need considering that Adams Jones is 32 years old and Leon Hall, 31, is an unrestricted free agent coming off back surgery.
SB Nation's James Brady is a fan of the pick and thinks, with time and development, Jackson could become one of the NFL's best corners.
His physicality and aggressiveness rarely go against him, and when he takes chances he picks the right moments. He does get grabby at times and that could lead to penalties at the next level, but he usually keeps it controlled.
Jackson is capable in both zone and press coverage, and isn't easily looked off by quarterbacks. His reaction time is among the best of any cornerback prospect in recent years and he could quickly become one of the league's top cornerbacks if he successfully makes the transition to the NFL.
There are only a few knocks with his game at this point. Some scouts question whether Jackson has the short-line speed to keep up with the speediest receivers the NFL has to offer, and it's a fair question that can only be answered when he finds his way onto the field and faces one of them. Jackson could also work on his anticipation, as he does a lot more reacting than preempting and NFL receivers are a completely different beast than what he's used to facing.
SI's Doug Farrar isn't too high on the pick, but does like Jackson as a prospect.
With most of the top receivers off the board, the Bengals turn to another need and draft Jackson, a natural press boundary cornerback with the tools and skills to stand up to the fastest and most physical receivers in the league over time. Last season, he put up 34 solo tackles, five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 23 pass deflections to lead the nation in that category. He’s a do-it-all player at a key position, though he’ll have to get more efficient with his feet to avoid getting turned completely around by more savvy NFL receivers
It's safe to say the Bengals made a decent pick with Jackson, though there's a stronger sentiment that this was a great addition that could pay big dividends sooner rather than later.