The New England Patriots just wrapped up mandatory minicamp, and one of the biggest storylines revolved around the battle for the second cornerback spot. With the off-season departure of Malcolm Butler, the Patriots have an open competition for the starting cornerback job opposite Stephon Gilmore. After minicamp, undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson appears to be the front-runner for the starting job.
Despite being undrafted, Jackson has the tools to start alongside Gilmore. However, in order to do that, he must overcome the strong camp competition, as well as a few of his own off-field issues. Jackson is one of the biggest X-Factors on the roster and is one of the most interesting players to monitor going forward.
New England Patriots X-Factors – J.C Jackson
As previously mentioned, the Patriots currently have an opening to start alongside Stephon Gilmore. With Jason McCourty nursing an injury through minicamp, Jackson lined up with the first-team defense throughout minicamp.
Not only did he start with the first team defense, but he looked like he belonged. The Patriots offense targeted Jackson, and Jackson almost always ended up on top. One of his more impressive performances of the session came on Day Two. Tom Brady targeted Chris Hogan early, but tight coverage by Jackson forced an incompletion. Jackson continued his strong start by finishing the day with two pass breakups.
If an undrafted rookie with character issues impressing during camp sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Just four years earlier, Malcolm Butler went through an incredibly similar journey to the one Jackson is on now. However, for every Malcolm Butler, there are ten Alfonzo Dennard’s. If Jackson is to succeed, he’ll need to put those off-field issues behind him.
Can Jackson Overcome Character Concerns?
Jackson had the skillset to be an early- to mid-round pick, but his character concerns caused him to go undrafted. Jackson has a long history of troubling decision making that he needs to overcome in order to stick around.
Back in 2014, police found Jackson with marijuana, but charges were never filed. Later that very same month, somebody shot a gun into Jackson’s car, with a bullet grazing his eyelid. While both of these events were major red flags, what happened in April 2015 was far worse than both events.
Jackson got in over his head when he was charged with three counts of home invasion with a deadly weapon and one count of burglary in an occupied dwelling. While Jackson was found not guilty, he wasn’t entirely innocent either. The police reports determined that Jackson’s two accomplices actually broke into the house, while Jackson waited outside on the phone.
This was the last straw for Florida, as they kicked Jackson out of school. Jackson went to Riverside City College before transferring again to Maryland. Jackson managed to keep out of trouble in his post-Florida career. Still, his checkered past was too much for any team to risk a draft pick.
Last Word on J.C. Jackson
Jackson has the skill to contribute on defense and has the skills to be one of the better cornerbacks on the roster. Bill Belichick and the coaching staff clearly believe in him, and he has a clear opportunity to be a major part of the 2018 Patriots.
However, to do that he must first overcome his checkered past. While he’s stayed out of trouble the past few seasons, he’ll have less oversight in the NFL than he did at college. Belichick has shown in the past that he’ll take risks on character cases, but he doesn’t give these players a long leash.
For what it’s worth, Jackson seems to be saying and doing all the right things. He’s said multiple times that he joined the Patriots in large part because of their organizational structure. From what we’ve seen, Jackson’s priorities appear to be living a clean life and being a good football player.
Perhaps the threat of serious jail time straightened Jackson out. He hasn’t had any legal issues since the burglary incident and has clearly impressed Belichick. If Jackson can keep a good head on his shoulders, expect to see him play a significant role in Foxboro for the foreseeable future.
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