Ask any NFL pundit about the Chicago Bears defense and they'll tell you all about star acquisition Khalil Mack. Rightfully so, Mack has been on a tear since trading in his Raiders gear for Chicago garb. But there's another monster prowling the midway these days, he calls free safety home. His name? Eddie Jackson.
Eddie Jackson was a three-year starter with the Alabama Crimson Tide, a team captain and produced 9 interceptions in his time in college. With a background playing cornerback preceding his tenure as the team's starting free safety, he was fully capable of playing man to man coverage as well.
Sounds like a lay-up Draft assessment, right? Not so fast. Jackson broke his leg returning a punt late in a 33-14 win over Texas A&M. That injury, which cost him the second half of his senior season, also kept Jackson shelved throughout the pre-draft process.
Between the stellar play of Ohio State's Malik Hooker/LSU's Jamal Adams and Jackson's absence from the scene, he slowly became an afterthought throughout the Draft process.
He's not an afterthought anymore. Jackson logged his fourth career defensive touchdown on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, a score which proved to be the difference in Chicago's 25-20 victory. Jackson, who two weeks earlier returned a fumble for a touchdown against Buffalo, is tearing apart NFL offenses this season.
With a strong final six games, Jackson has a very legitimate claim to All-Pro status in 2018. His instincts and anticipation where hallmarks of his college film at Alabama. They're fully on display through 26 career starts with the Bears as well.
Jackson, who the Bears ultimately selected with the 112th selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, has blossomed. Several traits from his 2017 NFL Draft report can serve and indicators to Jackson's success.
2017 NFL Draft Report
Jackson has effectively checked and illustrated each of this notable qualities, directly from his college tape:
- Shows strong understanding of how to leverage routes
- Shadows eyes of the Quarterback consistently to challenge throws
- Shows strong ability to finish plays when getting hand on the ball
- Very active in communication and relaying calls pre-snap after motion
- Strong mental grasp of the defense and was a field commander in the secondary
- Center field ability thanks to impressive burst and range, strong mental processing and ball skills
- Day 1 starter at Free Safety
But the scary thing is Jackson has progressed in the *other* role as a back-end defender since leaving Alabama: he's been terrific in run support this season. At Alabama, Jackson was a slow-play run defender who preferred to stay shaded over the ball carrier. This allowed him to ensure no explosive plays got into the secondary. But with that patience also came hesitancy as a tackler.
Not so much, these days. Jackson's tackling has improved with his soaring confidence. And that development takes him firmly out of the status of a "draft steal" and into the status of the elites at his position.
Historical Big Plays
No defender has produced more points than Jackson since the start of 2017: he's directly accounted for four defensive touchdowns. Jackson's also registered 9 total turnovers: 5 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries.
The list of defensive players in NFL history (since 1920) to record two interception return touchdowns and two fumble return touchdowns in their first three seasons is four players long. That list includes:
- Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears (2017-present, 5 interceptions in 26 games)
- Erik McMillan, New York Jets (1988-1990, 19 interceptions in 45 games)
- Billy Stacy, Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals (1959-1961, 13 interceptions in 36 games)
- Tom Landry, New York Giants (1949-1951, 11 interceptions in 36 games)
Yes. THAT Tom Landry. And mind you, Jackson is just over halfway through his second season; McMillan is the only other player to accomplish that level of defensive scoring in his first two seasons. It's a testament to not only Jackson but to the secondary as a whole. This kind of prowling around the football doesn't occur without quality play across the backend.
Jackson clearly has confidence in his teammates, which allows him to track the football so aggressively. Perhaps, after watching the NFL sleep-walk on Jackson through the entire NFL Draft process, it's time we start having some confidence in Eddie ourselves.