Following the completion of Joe Douglas’ first draft as the New York Jets’ General Manager, he made some noteworthy UDFA signings as well. Among them was Nebraska Cornerback Lamar Jackson (I promise not to make any jokes referencing the League MVP with the same name). Jackson, a 2nd team all Big 10 player in his senior season at Nebraska, has the potential to make some noise in a seemingly wide-open cornerback room.
The Jets finally decided to part ways with Trumaine Johnson and Daryl Roberts this offseason, whom no Jets fan will miss, opening up the door for some new faces on the outside of Gregg Williams’ defense next season. Arthur Maulet and Bless Austin showed signs in 2019 that they could be solid contributors in 2020, but for them to be relied on would be a mistake. Brian Poole may be the one sure thing at slot corner, but the rest could be up for grabs. Lamar Jackson hopes to capitalize.Jackson has good size at 6’3 and 215 pounds, which judging by the Bryce Hall pick as well, Joe Douglas seems to value length at the position. Jackson was a three-year starter at Nebraska and showed durability as he played in all 36 games and started 35. His best season came as a senior where he recorded 40 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and 1 sack. Jackson shows versatility and ability to play the run and tackle, which always translates nicely to playing on Sundays. His size allows him to play big receivers, defend well in the red zone, and fair nicely on jump balls.
On the flip side, Jackson’s combine stats didn’t jump off the page. I’m not usually too big into these but he ran a 4.58 40-yard dash (somewhat pedestrian for a CB) and only benched 225 pounds ten times. A player of his size should be expected to get more reps. A bigger concern would be his overall coverage skills. Jackson seems to struggle in a few key areas: locating the ball, press coverage, and covering deep routes. Even in his highlight tape, two of his five interceptions were on poorly thrown balls where he was clearly beaten. Against Pitt, he made a nice recovery and one-handed interception but he missed a jam at the line and was beaten badly, and was saved by a severe underthrow. Another interception from his Junior season against Troy, he was beat by five yards on a deep post and the Quarterback simply couldn’t throw it that far. Jackson also shows a tendency to not be able to locate the ball on his own and plays the man too often (didn’t I already mention Daryl Roberts?).
The jury will be out on Jackson, as it will be on all the undrafted free agents. Jackson’s size, durability, and tackling ability are clear positives and things he has to highlight to make this team. But a concerning ability in coverage may overshadow any plus Jackson has, specifically in Gregg Williams system. Jamal Adams has carte blanche all over the field, and Marcus Maye plays a deep roaming free safety, often leaving cornerbacks on their own. The lack of man coverage ability is a cause for concern. We will see what will prevail but fans have to be happy about Douglas taking swings with upside at positions of weakness in the UDFA class.