William Jackson had a fantastic season.
I know, I know. Hot take.
Jackson’s playing time significantly increased as the season progressed, finishing fourth among defensive backs with 697 snaps — behind George Iloka (989 snaps), Darqueze Dennard (899), and Dre Kirkpatrick (868). Jackson also finished second on the team with 13 pass deflections — Kirkpatrick led the squad with 14.
His All-Pro moment arrived three weeks into the season. Jackson jumped Jordy Nelson’s telegraphed route and returned his first career interception 75 yards for a touchdown. The score gave Cincinnati an early 21-7 lead — which was astonishing if you recall how horrible those opening weeks were (and if you didn’t recall, sorry for the reminder). And spare a thought imagining that conversation with his family. “Yea, I just intercepted my first NFL pass and it was against Aaron f***ing Rodgers.” Oh, and Jackson is only the 14th player in franchise history to score a touchdown with his first career interception and it’s only the second time Rodgers has thrown a pick-six.
Despite that being his only interception, Pro Football Focus writes that you couldn’t find a better shutdown corner in the NFL in 2017.
Though 17 weeks, cornerback William Jackson allowed just 34.9 percent of the throws into his coverage to be caught. This is the best rate among corners this year and also the best rate recorded since 2011 (Derek Cox – 32.1 percent).
During a three-game stretch between week seven and nine, Jackson allowed only five receptions on 17 targets for 18 yards. In addition, he allowed nothing against the Lions (on three attempts), one reception against the Bears (two attempts), and only one against the Bills. By the end of the season, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the seventh-best cornerback in the NFL.
Yea, a fantastic season.
The Bears have third-and-one from Cincinnati’s nine-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the first half. Chicago had already established a 9-7 lead and were threatening to score again. Cincinnati needed a stop. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky rolled to his right and tried squeezing the football to tight end Adam Shaheen. Jackson disrupted the transaction just enough to cause an incomplete. In the end it didn’t matter; Mike Nugent converted the field goal and Chicago eventually won 33-7.
Earlier in the season, Jackson squared off against Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown with 11:30 remaining in the third quarter. The Steelers were winning 20-14 by this point, and Cincinnati needed a stop. Jackson made a phenomenal play against Brown, punching out the football before Brown had a chance to catch it. Incomplete. In the end, it didn’t matter as Pittsburgh eventually scored a touchdown and won 29-14. (Umm)
A week later, against the Indianapolis Colts, Jackson faced T.Y. Hilton, who faked an inside move and redirected vertically. Jackson bit on the fake, but immediately recovered to cause an incomplete pass.
There are not many plays we can review from the ridiculous fact that opposing quarterbacks simply avoid throwing in Jackson’s direction.
“I’d like for them to throw it so I can make some plays, but they’ve been showing me a lot of respect lately,” said Jackson last month via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It definitely says a lot. It definitely saying they respect me a little bit. At least a little bit. I’ve been noticing it. They’ve been going the other way lately. But you know they’ll try to catch you sleeping and throw one back side on you, so I’m alert for it.”
Earlier in the season, Marvin Lewis praised Jackson. “He’s as good a guy as I’ve had an opportunity to be around. I said that from just a few days last year. I’ve been around a lot of guys that are very good at that, and William, as a young player, has that kind of ability.”
Jackson’s NFL start was briefly delayed last year. Cincinnati, who drafted him 24th overall in the 2016 NFL draft, had to place Jackson on Injured Reserve after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle tendon during practice in August 2016. Jackson nearly came off IR late last season, however Giovani Bernard suffered an ACL injury and the team, needing a running back, activated Cedric Peerman (who was also on IR) instead.
It’s a safe bet that Jackson will be a starting cornerback in 2018 (based on merit, not injury). In addition to that, Jackson has the talent, ability, instincts, intelligence, reaction, and awareness to become one of the league’s top shutdown corners.