For the fifth time in Marvin Lewis' 14 NFL Drafts as Bengals head coach and for the third time in the past five, Cincinnati took a cornerback with its first round pick. With pick No. 24 overall in 2016, the team selected the athletic speedster from the University of Houston in William Jackson III.
Jackson was the fourth defensive back taken in the first round and gives the Bengals flexibility at the position in the years ahead. Initially a Junior College transfer, Jackson made huge strides in 2015 with the Shastas, nabbing five interceptions--two of which he returned for touchdowns--and a whopping 23 pass breakups on the year. He was initially viewed as a second round prospect early in the Draft process, but great workouts, including a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, steadily rose his stock to a first round talent.
What Jackson Brings to the Bengals:
Extreme Athleticism: The team now boasts one of the most athletic cornerback groups in the league. Though he'll be 33-years-old when the season begins, Adam Jones is extremely shifty as both a corner and a return man, while Dre Kirkpatrick has flashed quite a bit of big-play ability and Josh Shaw is the physical guy in the group, who has versatility to play the slot and potentially safety. Now, they add more speed and big-play ability with Jackson.
Length: One of the biggest reasons for Jackson's 23 pass breakups and five interceptions in 2015 is his arm length and ability to out-leap receivers. With the Bengals facing the explosive weaponry of the Steelers twice a year, and with Cleveland adding the exciting Corey Coleman, the Bengals need as many able cornerbacks on deck as possible.
Big-Play Ability: In recent years, the Bengals' defense relied a bit more on quarterback sacks (with 2014 being the exception) and keeping plays in front of them to limit points against them. While pick-sixes occurred occasionally, it's not a major aspect the Bengals relied on, as evidenced by the current cornerbacks on the roster only accounting for four interceptions last year. Jackson is a player who can potentially switch the field with a big play at any given moment.
Why Jackson to the Bengals Makes Sense:
Contingency Plan: As I mentioned above, though Jones freshly-inked a new contract, he's 33 years old this year, and he may not see all three years of the deal through. Meanwhile, the Bengals have a big decision to make on Kirkpatrick, who is on the fifth year of his rookie deal and is coming off his first full year as a starter where he amassed zero interceptions. Want more? The team's 2014 first round corner, Darqueze Dennard, has battled injuries and depth chart issues, while Shaw might not be a long-term answer as an outside corner. Jackson looks the part in case an issue arises with any one of these corners.
Screw You, Steelers: Many mock drafts and two major draft analysts (NFL Network's Mike Mayock and ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr.) basically said the Steelers had Jackson on their radar one pick after the Bengals nabbed him. Obviously, the Bengals feel as if Jackson can be a good player for them in years to come, but in the process of grabbing an exciting corner, they also took what seems like a coveted player from a hated division rival. Then again, former assistants Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer likely did the same to Lewis in grabbing Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell in the two picks right in front of them.
The Wide Receiver Run: When the Bengals saw four wide receivers go in the nine picks before their own, they decided to stay true to their board. Sure, trading back might have been an option, but then it also might have meant taking a lesser player and still reaching. So, as they have done since 2013 (not coincidentally coinciding with 33 regular season wins and three postseason berths), the Bengals took the best player available and will make the proverbial square peg fit into the round hole.
Value: Though he may have begun the winter and spring as a second round prospect, there was no doubt that Jackson propelled himself into the first round. It sounds as if both Mayock and Kiper had Jackson within the top-20 players in this class, so the Bengals might have grabbed a guy a few spots behind where he should have gone.
The Rich Get Richer: Of the Bengals' top five cornerbacks, four are first round picks (Jones, Kirkpatrick, Dennard, Jackson), while the other is a fourth rounder last year in Shaw. If the front seven happens to stumble in 2016, the secondary should be able to pick up any kind of slack.
Analytics: Some people love the data and numbers aspect of football and some don't. If you're one who likes Pro Football Focus' system, then Jackson might be the best corner in the draft, even though three others were drafted in front of him. From PFF:
Jackson was PFF’s second-highest graded cornerback in coverage this season, and second only to Ramsey in overall grade when play against the run is thrown into the equation. He was targeted 93 times this past season, allowing only 46 catches (49.5 percent). He had five interceptions and 12 pass breakups, allowing a passer rating of just 57.9 when thrown his way.
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2016 NFL Draft: The Bengals Select CB William Jackson IIIPosted by Cincy Jungle on Thursday, April 28, 2016