The 2016 NFL Draft is in the books and rookie minicamps have wrapped – team OTA’s and the training camp are around the corner. In this series, I am going to take a look back at the Bengals 2016 draft class and look ahead at what the new players could do in stripes during the 2016 season.
During Marvin Lewis’ tenure as Bengals head coach, the team has built a reputation for solid drafts – a direct 180-degree turn from the pre-Marvin drafts. A benchmark of these drafts has been to pick players who don’t have to contribute right away, but who will become solid players down the road.
I won’t lie, I wanted a receiver in the first round; but, the value was just not on the board. So, in true of-late Bengal fashion, the team picked a very good player at a position that is extremely important. With the Steelers boasting an outstanding receiving corps, the Ravens trying to build an air attack, and the Browns looking to revamp their offense with the likes of Hue Jackson and RGIII (don’t laugh); Marvin took the best cornerback on the board, William Jackson III from the University of Houston. This gives the Bengals a defensive backfield consisting of first-round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard along with the ageless Adam Jones. That’s four top-line corners in the same defensive backfield, a situation many coaches may see as a luxury.
Let’s take a look at Jackson’s measurables. He is a sizable corner, standing 6’0” and tipping the scales at nearly 190 pounds. Not only is Jackson big, he’s fast – clocking a 4.37 second 40-yard dash and a 20-yard short shuttle of 4.32 seconds. Size and speed, a good formula for corners. During his final year at Houston he had five picks and 28 pass breakups – leading the nation. Great numbers, but my biggest issue is that these numbers came in the American Athletic Conference, not exactly a football juggernaut.
Scouting reports tout Jackson’s strength when the ball is in the air, which – after watching film of Jackson – is impressive. His long arms also help break up passes on deep balls. One play in particular highlighting this skill came in the Peach Bowl against Florida State where Jackson seemed to be beaten deep, but he was able to use his speed to close on the receiver and his long arms to recover and make the interception. Was the ball under-thrown? Yes. Was he beaten initially? Yes. However, he made a heck of a play to recover, track the ball, and make the pick. He made up roughly seven yards while the ball was in the air and got the INT, valuable recovery skills.
Some scouts have reservations with Jackson’s ability to provide support in the run game. I contend that the linebacking group and the defensive line should be able to eat up enough runs early on that Jackson shouldn’t be pressed into too much support duty. If he does have to help on a tackle, he shows a knack for getting low and taking out the running back’s legs. Case in point, he made a low tackle against the University of Cincinnati along the sidelines, causing the receiver to cough up the ball, which the Cougars recovered. Another example is a crushing blow he delivered when Florida State was knocking on the doorstep in the red zone during the Peach Bowl. Granted, he lowered his head a bit more than I’d like to see; but, he leveled the RB and stopped him for a slight loss.
So, will Jackson contribute right away? I’d look for him in nickel packages, especially if Dennard is slowed at all in his recovery from shoulder surgery. Kirkpatrick may be looking over his shoulder as well, as he is in the last year of his rookie contract. In addition, look for Darrin Simmons to use Jackson’s speed on special teams, mainly as a gunner on the punt team.
Overall, analysts liked this pick – and I can’t disagree. If there were any doubts as to Jackson’s ability, keep in mind that the Steelers would have definitely taken Jackson with the next pick. Instead, the Bengals took Jackson and the Steelers were left to reach a bit and take Artie Burns. Jackson should contribute right away and certainly appears to have the size and skills to be a solid NFL corner.