Maryland football sent its first first-round draft pick in nine years to the NFL Thursday night when the Carolina Panthers selected wide receiver DJ Moore, but there’s another future draft pick on its horizon. JC Jackson will likely hear his name called in Dallas this weekend, whether it be on Friday or Saturday.
Jackson has had an incredible road to this point, overcoming legal issues and a pair of transfers that led him to Maryland. In his two years in College Park, he held down a starting cornerback position, often shadowing the opposing team’s best receiver around the field. Much like Moore, he had a solid performance at the NFL Combine, which boosted his stock to where it sits now. That’s obviously different from team to team, but it seems likely we’ll hear his name called sometime this weekend.
He might not have been the Terps’ most consistent cornerback, but he was routinely up for a challenge, despite a nagging shoulder injury that bothered him since his early days at Florida. His physicality and impressive zone coverage technique will make him an intriguing prospect for NFL teams.
Weight: 201 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.46 seconds
225-pound bench reps: 14
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet
What an NFL team is getting
Jackson is a physical corner who’s shown ability to perform in press and zone coverage. A shoulder injury that bugged him throughout his collegiate career seemed to take some of his willingness to make tackles away from him, but he was frequently in the right position to make them and took the correct angle more often than not. Be it in run support or in covering a shallow pass, Jackson would stick his nose into the offense’s business whenever he felt comfortable doing so.
This forced fumble and subsequent Terps receovery was pivotal in keeping Michigan State out of the end zone and propelling Maryland to a marquee win in DJ Durkin’s first year. Jackson frequently made similar plays, though he was occasionally maligned by fans for not being physical enough in run support. The fact of the matter is, he was, and NFL scouts have seen enough of it that they’re prepared to advise their organizations to pick him in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft if the moment is right.
Just like any shutdown corner, Jackson also has impressive ball skills. At Texas in Week 1, he tracked an overthrown ball down the left sideline like a wide receiver to turn the momentum in the Terps’ favor. Maryland trailed 7-0 at the time, but led 30-14 at halftime. The win at Texas was one of Maryland’s only team highlights of the season, and Jackson’s pick was one of the best plays from the game.
At no time was were his skills on display more than in the final minutes of Maryland’s road game against Minnesota. Down to their third-string quarterback, the Terps needed a defensive stop to steal a road win against the Golden Gophers. When his team needed him most, Jackson came up with the biggest defensive play of the game, taking the ball away to seal a Maryland victory.
On occasion, Jackson struggles in downfield coverage and doesn’t carry the same straight-line speed on deep routes as receivers. He was flagged for nine pass interference fouls and four defensive holding calls in his two seasons at Maryland, which is both a product of his physical playing style and evidence that he intermittently crossed the line when he was beaten on some plays.
Most full mock drafts seem to have Jackson coming off the board anywhere between the third and sixth round. Though he recently told SB Nation he feels he can “be a shutdown corner ... a lockdown,” he may have to wait until Saturday to hear his name called in Dallas.
Before he fully develops his man coverage skills, Jackson seems like a perfect fit in a place like Seattle that runs a lot of zone defense. He could thrive early in a predominantly Cover 3 and Cover 1 scheme like the Seahawks run. But 31 other teams still have the chance, and it’s just a waiting game at this point.