Coming into the 2016 NFL Draft, few envisioned the Bengals spending a first-round pick on a cornerback.
But this is a franchise that has been as good as anyone when it comes to staying true to their big board and grabbing the best prospect on the board, especially in Round 1. This time, that meant taking cornerback William Jackson III, who was expected to come off the Draft board right where the Bengals got him.
Jackson, a former Houston Cougars star, was regarded as one of the two or three best corners in this draft. This past season, Jackson led the NCAA and set a school record for pass breakups with 23. He also added five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Coming into the draft, Jackson was ranked by many as a top-20 prospect, making him good value for where the Bengals got him.
And there are some who think Jackson was a the kind of talent at cornerback that it hard for any team to pass on. Prior to the draft, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spoke with a number of scouts about Jackson and other defensive back prospects in this draft, and some of the reviews Jackson got suggest the Bengals got a real steal at 24.
"He's fast, physical, can play the ball, long arms (31 ¾). He starts for any team in the league," the scout said. "You might have one (on your team) better than him but you don't have two."
The Bengals aren't a team known for letting rookie cornerbacks play much on defense, and while this scout says he'd start for any team in the league, it's highly unlikely that happens this year. The Bengals do have three other first round cornerbacks on the roster, after all, so they might just have two, or even three better corners on the roster.
The biggest negatives on Jackson are that he's a little too physical and lacks muscle mass.
"Only negative is he's one of those guys that likes to put his hands on receivers downfield," another scout said. "He's got to stop that. He's really a good player."
"I think he's too small," a third scout said. "Of all the corners, he's got really good ball skills. But his lean muscle mass is like 171 pounds, which is not good."
Even with those negatives, it was a good strategy by Cincinnati to grab Jackson in Round 1 since other positions of need had more depth in the Draft, which allowed quality prospects to be had in the latter rounds. Though this position wasn't expected to be addressed this early, Jackson is a solid corner who can help upgrade this secondary with Leon Hall gone.
Pro Football Focus was also really high on Jackson, so much so that they think he may end up being this draft's best corner. Let's hope that ends up being the case, because it would likely mean the Bengals' defense becomes even more dangerous than it already is.