The Bengals love first-round corners, and expectedly, the team is really excited about what they have in William Jackson III.
The 24th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jackson was the first player selected by the Bengals in this year's draft. The former Houston Cougars cornerback was regarded as one of the two or three best cornerback prospects in this draft.
During his final collegiate season, Jackson led the NCAA and set a school record for pass breakups in 2015 with 23. He also added five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. While last year's draft featured a cornerback class that wasn’t very deep, Jackson was ranked by many as a top-20 prospect, making him a good value for where the Bengals got him toward the end of Round 1.
Pro Football Focus went as far as to say that Jackson may end up being the 2016 draft's best corner. As for their rankings, PFF had Jackson as the 15th-best prospect and the second-best corner behind only Jalen Ramsey who was ranked third overall.
That would suggest Jackson was the caliber of player that could make an impact his rookie season, even for a Bengals team that tends to redshirt their young players. It looked like that was coming to fruition as Jackson looked fantastic in offseason workouts, enough that he routinely drew strong praise from coaches and even fellow players.
Unfortunately, a torn pectoral muscle suffered in training camp would effectively end Jackson’s rookie season. He ended up recovering enough that the team thought about bringing him back off Injured Reserve late in the season, but opted instead to use that on Cedric Peerman.
It ended up being a good call as that allowed other young corners like Darqueze Dennard, Joshua Shaw and Keivarae Russell to play more, even though Russell played just one defensive snap. Even had Jackson been activated, he probably would have gotten just a handful of snaps behind those guys along with starters Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Speaking of, one or both of those latter two guys could be on the way out this offseason. Jones’ recent arrest has him squarely on the roster bubble ahead of free agency, while Kirkpatrick is an unrestricted free agent.
If one or both of those guys leaves, Jackson has a great shot at a big role in this defense next season. He probably would play on the boundary, and that’s where both Jones and Kirkpatrick have been full-time starters.
But if both of those vets are back next season along with Dennard and Shaw, Jackson will find it very difficult to make it onto the field for anything other than special teams.
After his rookie year, we’re left wondering what could have been in year one and what Jackson will become in the future. What are your long-term hopes for the former first round pick?