It isn’t breaking news to say that the Green Bay Packers secondary struggled last season. Your grandmother who barely watches football could have picked up on that. That is why new general manager Brian Gutekunst revamped the secondary, specifically the cornerback position, this off-season. He signed free agent and former Packer Tramon Williams to a deal. He also re-signed Davon House, who struggled with injuries last season for the Packers. But the bigger news was what Gutekunst did in the first two rounds of this year’s draft.
With his first pick as the Packers general manager, he selected cornerback Jaire Alexander out of Louisville. Alexander has garnered a lot of talk this off-season and have brought a lot of excitement to Packers fans. But the Packers second round pick, another cornerback, might be a playmaker for the Packers as well. Josh Jackson is an intriguing piece to the Packers secondary.
If you live in Big Ten football country, you know Jackson well. Jackson starred as a cornerback for the University of Iowa. Recruited as a wide receiver, a position he played during his freshman year, he switched to cornerback before his sophomore season. Although his sophomore season wasn’t much to write home about, things changed during his junior season.
It appeared that one season learning a new position was all that Jackson needed. He was not only an elite cornerback for the Hawkeye program, but also a playmaker. Starting at one of the cornerback positions, Jackson hauled in eight interceptions, two of which he returned for a touchdown, and also forced one fumble. His play last season earned him All American honors. He was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award and was named the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year.
After the season that Jackson had, it didn’t take long for him to decide to declare for the NFL draft. Many NFL draft experts had Jackson slotted to go in the first round. His name came up frequently in mock drafts with him projected to be taken with the Packers first round pick. But those first round projections disappeared after Jackson ran a disappointing forty yard dash time at the NFL combine.
With questions about his speed, Jackson slipped to the second round. It is highly doubtful that Gutekunst and his scouting staff expected Jackson to be available for them in the second round. But with him available, the Packers selected him with the 45th overall pick.
The Packers aren’t new to drafting cornerbacks with their first and second round picks in the same draft. They did so back in 2015 when they selected Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins with their first and second round picks. Gutekunst is hoping history will change this time around though with Alexander and Jackson.
Randall, the first round pick in 2015, has had a roller coaster NFL career so far. To go along with his up and down play, he also had issues with the Packers coaching staff. The latter played a big part in Gutekunst shipping Randall to the Cleveland Browns this off-season for backup quarterback DeShone Kizer.
Rollins, the second round choice of 2015, has battled injuries throughout his young NFL career. Even when healthy, Rollins hasn’t been the playmaker the Packers has hoped he would be. So far in his three year career, he has only picked off three passes. Rollins enters this year’s camp on the bubble to make the Packers roster.
Williams, House, and last year’s top draft pick Kevin King are expected to compete for the starting boundary cornerback positions in training camp this season. But Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson will both be asked to contribute immediately. With how poorly the Packers cornerbacks played last season, the Packers don’t have the luxury to have both of their rookie cornerbacks sit and learn.
While Alexander is getting a lot of the publicity heading into camp, Jackson could be the wild card of the two. Alexander has the top end speed looked for by NFL teams. But unlike Jackson, who had eight last season, Alexander only had two interceptions in his college career. It isn’t an overstatement to say that Jackson’s ball skills are superior to Alexander’s.
Jackson also has the type of size expected for cornerbacks in today’s NFL landscape. Jackson stands 6’0”, which is two inches taller than Alexander, should help him as an NFL boundary cornerback. While quicker and shorter wide receivers play in the slot, outside wide receivers are predominantly taller. That is why most believe that Alexander will benefit more in the slot.
As Tom Silverstein of PackersNews.com recently pointed out, most scouts projected Josh Jackson to end up with a team that runs a zone defense. Jackson played mostly zone while at Iowa. But Jackson has the size and arm length to transition to a press cornerback. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is expected to ask his cornerbacks to play mostly press coverage this season.
The Packers are hoping both Alexander and Jackson turn out to be solid NFL cornerbacks. Alexander could very well be a top cornerback in the future. But Jackson’s size and play making ability makes him very intriguing for the Packers secondary. The Packers haven’t had lot of playmakers at the cornerback position in recent history. They are hoping, especially after what they witnessed in his last season at Iowa, that Josh Jackson is that type of player.