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Scouting Jets UDFA cornerback Lamar Jackson

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Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Over the next few months, we’re providing an in-depth scouting report for each of the Jets’ undrafted free agents. We continue today with cornerback Lamar Jackson.

The 22-year old Jackson, who is listed at 6’2” and 208 pounds, was a three-year starter for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and was selected as an all-Big 10 second-teamer in 2019. He intercepted five passes over the last two seasons.

Background

Jackson was a highly rated high school recruit, ranked 71st in the nation by ESPN and the number one safety prospect by Rivals. He eventually had to choose between multiple offers but ended up opting to go to Nebraska.

As a freshman, Jackson was a backup cornerback and special teamer, although he did make his first career start in Nebraska’s bowl game. He ended the year with 17 tackles and a sack.

In 2017, Jackson became a starter and racked up 38 tackles and three passes defensed as he started every game. However, he struggled at times and his coverage numbers were poor.

The arrival of Scott Frost as head coach in 2018 saw Jackson eventually learning to play with more consistency, although he had been benched earlier on in the season. Jackson made the first two interceptions of his career and also posted 28 tackles and seven passes defensed.

2019 was Jackson’s best season as he began to emerge as a leader. He posted career highs in tackles (40), passes defensed (13) and interceptions (three). He was second in the conference in pass break-ups and was voted as a second team all-Big 10 selection.

At the end of his senior year, Jackson played in the senior bowl and attended the scouting combine with most draft analysts projecting him to be a mid-to-late round pick. However, he went unselected and the Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Jackson brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Jackson’s best attribute is his size and length but he also displayed above average explosiveness at his combine workout.

However, his 40-yard dash time (4.58) was disappointing and he only posted 13 bench press reps. Due to his size, it takes him a while to accelerate to full speed and he can be slow to change direction. However, he still posted a solid 4.13 short shuttle time.

Usage

As noted, Jackson was regarded as a safety prospect coming out of high school, but he had also played some cornerback and that was his role throughout his time with the Cornhuskers.

He primarily played on the outside, although he would drop off into a safety role when there was no receiver on his side. It was rare for him to play in the slot and he wasn’t exploited on the few occasions he found himself in that role.

Jackson also played some quarterback in high school.

Coverage skills

The best measure of Jackson’s improvement in terms of his consistency in coverage over his three years as a starter comes from his numbers when targeted.

In his first year as a starter, Jackson gave up 43 catches on just 59 targets and gave up a quarterback rating of almost 110. However, over his last two years he gave up 43 catches on 107 targets.

He also showed some improvement from year two to year three, dropping his average per catch from over 17 to under 13 when targeted and doing a better job of limiting yardage after the catch. He also didn’t give up any 40-yard plays.

Jackson uses his size to disrupt and re-route and his length to contest at the catch point. However he is less effective in space and when he has to stay with a fast receiver.

While he has good range, he can be slow to recover and struggles to stay with receivers who make sharp breaks.

On short intermediate routes where he can stay close to his man, he exhibits good positional sense and timing.

Ball skills

Perhaps Jackson’s biggest issue is that he struggles to track and locate the ball. He’ll usually make an effort to get his head turned around, but even when he does, this often causes him to lose contact with his man and can affect his balance and ability to make a play on the ball.

As a result, he’ll often get beaten at the catchpoint even when he’s in pretty good position. Last year, there were several potential big plays where he got lucky in such situations too.

When he can stay close to his man - or anticipates well enough to close well on the ball - Jackson’s length is an asset and enables him to disrupt the receiver’s attempts to make a play on the ball. His pass break-up numbers over the past few years are testament to that.

Although he did also drop at least two potential interceptions, Jackson also showed an ability to come down with contested balls.

In zone coverage, Jackson drops into a good position here and the quarterback underestimates his range as he is able to make the leaping interception.

Tackling

Jackson is usually a willing tackler and posted a career high in tackles in his senior year. He displays an ability to close on his man and wrap up.

However, he can also be guilty of bad habits in the open field. On this play, for example, he throws a shoulder at the ball carrier and makes no effort to wrap up.

As a result, Jackson averaged just under 10 missed tackles per season in his three years as a starter, so that’s something he’ll need to clean up at the next level.

Physicality

As noted, Jackson is able to use his size to disrupt and re-route his receiver well. He does a good job of leaning on his man here to prevent him from getting to the ball.

He has a lot of potential as a press corner, although his technique in his area can be inconsistent. If he doesn’t make a clean jam he can be a step slow to turn and run, perhaps due to a lack of hip flexibility. However, he does look comfortable staying tight on his man’s hip pocket.

As a tackler, Jackson will sometimes go for a big hit. He had three forced fumbles over the past two seasons.

Jackson was called for seven penalties in 2017 and 2018 but reduced this to three in his senior year. While that’s a positive sign, he can get a bit grabby and there were multiple plays where a receiver felt he’d been held or interfered with so he does like to push the envelope.

Run defense

Jackson had easily his most productive year against the run in 2019, contributing several good stops including this one.

Prior to 2019, the book on Jackson was that his effort in run support had been that he was somewhat inconsistent. In addition, most of Jackson’s missed tackles over the past few seasons have come in the running game.

Blitzing

Having mostly played on the outside, Jackson doesn’t get many chances to blitz but was effective when he did in his senior year, recording five pressures on seven rushes, including this strip sack.

Special teams

Jackson was considered a key special teamer in his first season with the Cornhuskers and played a lot on multiple units throughout his career, including occasionally as a gunner on the punt team and a vice on the punt return unit.

However, he didn’t make many positive contributions and didn’t register any tackles in kick or punt coverage.

In 2019, he almost blocked this field goal in overtime against the Colorado Buffaloes but was offside on the play and also got flagged for running into the kicker.

Instincts/Intelligence

Jackson shows good position sense and an ability to read and react well. He comes off his assignment here to blow up this screen pass.

However, he can be prone to errors. On this play he gambles on the out route and gets torched on the double move. This would have been a touchdown if the receiver kept his balance.

His experience of playing quarterback and safety in high school no doubt help Jackson with his ability to read and react. He was on the Nebraska scholar-athlete honor roll in 2018.

Attitude

As noted, Jackson emerged as a leader in his senior year. He said he tried to remain locked-in all year, showing maturity in doing so. As a result, he was awarded the team’s defensive MVP award and the Guy Chamberlain Trophy, which goes to the player who shows the “qualities and dedication of the Husker tradition”.

2018 was a wake-up call for Jackson, who was benched after an early season game where his defensive holding penalty had negated an interception. Jackson, not realizing he had been flagged, was seen dancing and celebrating on the sideline.

Since the end of the season, Jackson has said he has been focused on his diet and conditioning, as well as refining his technique.

Injuries

Jackson has had good durability at Nebraska as he played in 49 of 49 games during his four years in the program. He started 36 of the last 37 with his benching in 2018 being the only reason he missed a start.

Scheme Fit

Jackson is actually the kind of cornerback the Jets would almost certainly have targeted during the Todd Bowles era. His length and physicality would have had the Jets salivating at that time and they’d probably have tried to turn him into a press corner.

As we know, the Jets seem to have mostly been targeting defensive backs who will be able to play zone defense. Although Jackson has the tools of a press corner, he has played and had some good success in zone packages and his lack of straight line speed probably means he’s not ideally suited to bump and run anyway.

Jackson hasn’t played with any current Jets in college, although he was a teammate of Denzel Mims at the senior bowl.

Conclusions

Moreso than most of the other undrafted free agents, Jackson received a lot of attention from the media, although a lot of that was because he shares his name with the current NFL Most Valuable Player.

However, he was a player many analysts felt was worthy of a draft pick, with at least one draft analysis site viewing him as a possible day two pick.

A review of his film reveals why Jackson went undrafted as he is still raw in some areas. However, he has some decent potential as a developmental project so was a worthwhile pickup as an undrafted free agent signing.