The Bengals love first-round corners, and they’ve had good success with them during the Marvin Lewis era.
However, William Jackson may turn out to be the best of them all.
The 24th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jackson was regarded as one of the top cornerback prospects and someone that should go in the mid-to-late Round 1 range.
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. Pro Football Focus went as far as to say that Jackson may end up being the 2016 draft’s best cornerback.
It’s looking like that may to fruition after Jackson looked fantastic in what was technically his rookie season in 2017.
That’s because a torn pectoral muscle suffered in training camp effectively cost Jackson his rookie season in 2016. That meant 2017 would be Jackson’s first full training camp, preseason and regular season as a Bengal.
He did not disappoint.
Despite opening the year as a role player who mainly came off the bench, Jackson’s playing time significantly increased as the season progressed, finishing fourth among defensive backs with 697 snaps. Jackson also finished second on the team with 13 pass deflections, which only began to show just how hard he was to throw at.
Twice Jackson faced off against Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, who is considered to be the best wide receiver in the league, and twice, he shut Brown down.
Of the eight passes thrown in Brown’s direction with Jackson in coverage, none were completed, and Jackson broke up four of them.
All of this is why Jackson is getting a lot of hype going into the 2018 season, and he’s ready to back it up.
In an interview with Justin Williams of The Athletic, Jackson talked about his expectations for the upcoming season, which he believes will serve notice to the entire NFL.
“I feel like I did good last year, but obviously I wasn’t a starter,” Jackson said. “A lot of people around the world don’t actually know about me over here. They’ll definitely know about me this year.”
One thing Jackson is hoping to improve upon in a big way is more interceptions. He only had one in 2017, a pick-six against Aaron Rodgers in Week 3. While Jackson did get his hands on a lot of passes, he admits he was afraid to sell out for passes in fear of missing the ball and allowing a big completion.
“Last year I was kind of hesitant about going and getting the ball. Not this year,” Jackson said. “I want multiple picks — seven or eight.”
In 2017, Pro Football Focus rated Jackson as the seventh-best cornerback in football with an overall grade of 89.2. He was only credited with five starts, but saw plenty of action this year in place of Adam Jones, who missed time due to injury and suspension.
With Jones now a free agent, Jackson is effectively locked into the No. 1 cornerback this season. Looking at the schedule, he’ll go up against the likes of Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill, Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen and Amari Cooper.
If Jackson can hold all of them in check, he’ll have made it loud and clear he’s one of the game’s best defenders.