Say it with me: The Titans are drafting a cornerback.
Jason McCourty’s release was an unfortunate necessity, but it opens the door for another young cornerback to make the roster, likely someone who will contribute on special teams.
I’m not sure there was any cornerback in the nation who contributed more on special teams over the last three years than USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.
Jackson made a recent appearance on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio, where he revealed that he has visited with the Titans, along with a handful of other teams.
What’s interesting about the other teams on that list is where they pick in the draft.
The Buccaneers sit right behind the Titans at #19, which would be earlier than most experts expect Jackson to be selected. The other teams mentioned have picks #25 (Texans), #28 (Cowboys), #33 (Browns), #43 (Eagles), #50 (Bucs), #52 (Browns), #57 (Texans), #60 (Cowboys), and #65 (Browns again).
After pick #18 (as it currently stands), the Titans don’t pick again until #83. The Titans apparent interest in Adoree’ Jackson lends a lot of credence to the theories that the Titans will end up trading back at some point to acquire a second round pick, which seems more likely to be Jackson’s draft range.
Let’s talk about Adoree’s potential fit with the Titans.
As a prospect, he’s checks most of Robinson’s perceived criteria boxes. A three-year starter, Jackson has been getting national attention since his freshman year. The list of awards and honors he’s received since stepping foot on USC’s campus is impressive:
- Freshman All-American (2014)
- Pac-12 Defensive Rookie of the Year (2014)
- All-Conference honorable mention (2014)
- First-team All-Pac 12 defensive back (2015)
- Second-team All-Pac 12 returner (2015)
- Finalist for the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player (2015)
- First-team All-Pac 12 defensive back (2016)
- First-team All-American defensive back (2016)
- Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (2016)
- Winner of the Jet Award as the nation’s top return specialist (2016)
- Winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back (2016)
Obviously, Jackson must have been highly productive to receive such awards.
In 2016, Jackson recorded 55 tackles, nabbed five interceptions and notched 11 PBUs. He averaged 29.5 yards per kick return with two touchdowns and 12.6 yards per punt return, adding two more touchdowns.
Jackson wasn’t a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award in 2015 just for his defensive and special teams contributions - he also started at wide receiver for the Trojans.
While he focused more on defense and special teams in 2016, he had 57 combined rush attempts and receptions in 2015 for over 1,000 scrimmage yards and two offensive touchdowns.
Simply put, Jackson is electric. He’s an incredible athlete, an All-American track star in 2015 and 2016. He can flip the field with his kick returns and he has ball skills, with 28 pass deflections in three years at USC. He can literally change the outcome of a game by himself with a few exciting plays.
Don’t believe me? Wait till you hear what he did against Notre Dame last November: Jackson scored three times in three different phases of the game. After returning a punt in the first quarter 55 yards for a score, he took a screen pass 52 yards to the house (one of his 9 total offensive touches last season) and then returned Notre Dame’s next kickoff 97 yards for another touchdown.
Only four players in major college football over the last 20 years had scored a touchdown all three ways in the same game prior to Jackson.
|Adoree' Jackson||Combine Results|
|Adoree' Jackson||Combine Results|
|Arm||31.375-inch arm length|
|Hand||9.25-inch hand size|
|40-yard dash||4.42 40-yard dash|
|Vertical||36-inch vertical jump|
|Broad jump||122-inch broad jump|
He checks the production boxes. He checks the conference (and national) award boxes. He was named the nation’s best defensive back AND returner last season.
So.. what gives? Why isn’t this guy an option for the Titans with the number five overall pick?
Well, Jackson is rather raw as a cornerback. He spent his offseasons at USC participating in track and training for the Olympics rather than honing his football technique.
While he isn’t small, he doesn’t play as physical as the big-bodied cornerback options. He’s okay-but-not-great at pressing and using his hands to disrupt routes, but he has a lot of improvement to make in this area.
His biggest problem is getting overagressive going for a big play and getting beat deep. There are other technical flaws in his game to smooth out, such as his backpedal technique. He’s not very disciplined which can lead to him getting beat over the top.
But Jackson has a very high ceiling with his athleticism, smooth and fluid hips, and excellent ball skills. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network had this to say during the combine:
"He's gonna get a chance to play football year-round for the first time, I think you'll see dramatic improvements in his technique. There are no questions about his athletic ability. His toughness, his instincts, his ball skills-- fantastic," Jeremiah said. He can clean some stuff up with being a full-time football player."
Basically, now that he can use his offseasons to continue improving his technique, he will grow into a very good player.
Many analysts see Jackson’s ultimate position in the NFL as a slot cornerback; with his instincts and athleticism, he should be able to stick on the speedier receivers that run out of the slot, while his slighter frame may lead to being “out-physicalled” by some of the bigger receivers.
If Jackson ends up with the Titans, he would likely match up with the T.Y. Hiltons, Will Fullers, and Marquise Lees, though if he actually wants to see the field, he will have to clean up his tendency to bite on double-moves, because Hilton and Fuller will leave him in the dust (unless the ball bounces right out of Will Fuller’s hands, which has been known to happen).
But Jackson can step in and be an electric playmaker as a specialty returner from day one. He can come onto the field and man the slot if teams feel he is ready, and he can play special teams as a gunner, as well.
It may take a little bit of seasoning, but Jackson is near the top of the class when it comes to upside.
Ball skills? Check out this catch he made at USC’s pro day, fielding a “punt” with a ball already under each arm and one between his legs.
And here’s some fun highlights from his career at USC:
I like Jackson as the Titans future slot cornerback and return specialist if Jon Robinson can do some maneuvering and find a way to land him in the second round.