As we count down days until the 2018 draft, we will take a look at the first round pick selections by the Cincinnati Bengals over the last 10 years.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected cornerback William Jackson III out of Houston with the 24th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. As I mentioned during the review of 2014 selection Darqueze Dennard, the Bengals aimed to assemble an elite cornerback core through the draft. Jackson was the most recent addition to the group through the draft, joining Dre Kirkpatrick and Dennard.
Coming into the draft, Jackson was a big riser. He flew under the radar at Houston, but put up good numbers at the combine and had a solid game tape. Analysts felt like Jackson was one of the top players in that second tier of corners, along with Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves, Ohio St.’s Eli Apple, and Miami’s Artie Burns. Jalen Ramsay of Florida St. was in a tier of his own. Many (including myself) projected the Bengals to take a wide receiver first round. However, a huge run of WRs right before the Bengals’ pick allowed Jackson to fall into their lap.
Jackson fell off many people’s radar in his rookie year because he didn’t play at all. In training camp that year, Jackson tore his pectoral, which required the whole season to heal. There was some discussion about Jackson coming back that season as the Bengals Injured Reserve-Designated to Return player. Unfortunately, the Bengals determined he wasn’t healthy enough to contribute. In retrospect, that entire season off may have been a blessing in disguise for Jackson. It may have allowed him to adapt to an NFL system and lifestyle without pressures of performing on the field.
Going into 2017, it seemed like the Bengals planned to bring Jackson along like they did with their other draftees like Dennard. However, Jackson quickly proved he deserved more snaps than a backup. Tracking Jackson’s snap counts throughout the year, it was clear he earned the trust of the coaching staff. The first five weeks of the season, Jackson played over 40% of special teams snaps while playing as a backup corner. After showing out early, Jackson’s defensive playing time went up while his special teams playing time went down. The Bengals made him a starting CB later in the season, which boosted his snaps immensely. Over the course of the last four weeks of the season, he essentially didn’t play any special teams snaps. In Week 17, Jackson played every single defensive snap.
Jackson’s PFF grades say it all about his 2017 performance. Looking at his stats, nothing particularly jumps off the page. Jackson tallied 27 tackles and one pick-six last year, but he played so much better than that. For the entire season, Jackson graded out as the 8th best corner in all of football. Taking out some of Jackson’s early games as a backup (his first career games), Jackson actually ended up as a top-five corner overall. Some of the advanced stats on Jackson are pretty amazing, considering last season was essentially his first.
Looking forward, the expectations for Jackson are sky high. After a fantastic “rookie” year, Jackson should continue to establish himself as one of the elite corners in the NFL. Now that the Bengals have cut Adam Jones, Jackson should take over as the number one corner on the team. If Jackson puts together another stellar season, his name will be mentioned in the same breath as guys like Jalen Ramsay, Patrick Peterson, and Marcus Peters. Most importantly, Jackson can be the centerpiece of the Bengals’ young core of cornerbacks. With Kirkpatrick, Dennard, and now Jackson, the Bengals have built a dynamic secondary for years to come.