The Cincinnati Bengals are essentially getting an extra first-round pick this year as William Jackson III, the team’s 2016 first round pick, returns to action.
After missing all of his rookie season due to a pectoral injury suffered in training camp, where does Jackson stand on the current cornerback depth chart, and will he have a big role in this defense in 2017?
William Jackson III
Weight: 187 pounds
Experience: Second-year player in 2017
Draft Status: 2016 first round pick
Jackson is entering the second year of his four-year rookie contract, which also includes a fifth-year option if the Bengals choose to exercise it. Jackson will have a cap hit of $2,205,828 in 2017. If cut, he would have a dead cap hit of $6,947,483, according to Over The Cap.
The Bengals love first-round corners, and expectedly, the team is really excited about what they have in Jackson. The 24th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jackson was viewed as one of the top cornerbacks in a draft that was thought to be thin at this position.
The former Houston Cougars cornerback has a great nose for the ball, which helped him to lead the NCAA and set a school record for pass breakups in 2015 (23). He also added five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
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 and ended up being the fifth player drafted in 2016.
That would suggest Jackson is the caliber of player who could make an impact in 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 played great 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 one designation on Cedric Peerman.
It ended up allowing 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, both Kirkpatrick and Jones are back for the 2017 NFL season. Kirkpatrick inked a five-year deal paying him $10 million annually, so he’s not losing his starting job anytime soon.
That’s also true of Jones, who is set to make more than $14 million during the next two seasons. He was firmly on the roster bubble this offseason after yet another offseason arrest, but the Bengals opted to keep him in the fold.
With both of those vets are back next season along with Dennard and Shaw, Jackson may find it very difficult to make it onto the field for anything other than special teams this season.
Jackson is probably the fourth corner right now behind Dennard, Jones and Kirkpatrick. However, Dennard has shown enough vulnerability to think Jackson could pass him, and there’s a chance Jones is suspended for multiple games due to his offseason arrest.
That means Jackson could quickly go from riding the bench to a starting role at some point in 2017. That’s what makes him such a big wild card this season.
Even though he may not see the field much this season, Jackson has his roster spot very secure. It’s very rare to see a team give up on a first-round pick after just one season, and even though injuries cost Jackson his rookie season, he’s still a big unknown at this point. The Bengals will almost certainly give him at least four years to show what he’s capable of, and he’d have to struggle mightily for the team to not pick up his fifth-year option.
Odds: 99.9 percent