EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ho hum, another undrafted rookie cornerback is set to make the New England Patriots’ roster.
JC Jackson looks like he’s set to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Jones, Malcolm Butler and Randall Gay and crack the Patriots’ 53-man roster this summer. He capped off an impressive offseason with two interceptions and two pass breakups Thursday night in the Patriots’ fourth and final preseason game against the New York Giants.
“He’s been competitive all the way through whether he’s been at the OTAs in the spring, training camp, preseason games,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “Not perfect. He has some things to learn, but he competes hard, tackles well. He made a couple good plays on the ball.”
And Belichick’s right. Jackson didn’t have a perfect performance. He got caught up while trying to avoid a pick play and allowed a 41-yard touchdown to Giants wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo. But the interceptions and breakups more than made up for it. Overall this preseason he’s allowed just a 68.1 passer rating.
And after watching him throughout the spring and summer, Jackson’s veteran teammates aren’t surprised that he broke out in a big way Thursday night.
“Not at all,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We’ve seen what he’s been able to do. He’s been playing those fade balls like that all year. When he gets a good jam and runs, he’s either there knocking it off or he’s picking it off. I mean, it was good to see him have some success tonight and play the way he did, because he’s a capable player. He’s a good football player.”
Jackson is competing for a roster spot behind cornerback locks Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Duke Dawson with fellow rookie Keion Crossen, veteran Jason McCourty and former practice squadders Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz.
Even McCourty had to give it up to Jackson.
“The kid can play,” McCourty said. “I remember asking him in the middle of training camp, ‘Why the hell weren’t you drafted?’ Just seeing him out there covering, I think throughout camp, him and Keion both really, really good athletes, can cover. And they’ve done a good job of learning just more football. I think for both of those guys, that was the big thing for them of understanding every defense, ways the offense is trying to attack you. I think those are the things those guys have done a really good job of improving on because covering 1-on-1 was something that both of those guys could do in their sleep when they got here. It was just picking up the rest of the defense and football in general. I think they’ve both done a really good job of that.”
Jackson went undrafted because of off-field issues that got him dismissed from the University of Florida. He kept himself clean through a year at Riverside City College and in two seasons at the University of Maryland, but a team still didn’t want to take a risk on drafting him.
The Patriots were smart to snag him up when they could.
“He’s played really well throughout camp,” safety Devin McCourty said. “I think he’s showed a great skill set of just going out there and being able to lock up guys. Really competitive with whoever we put him on throughout camp, and I would say throughout all the preseason games. I was happy for him. For a young guy to come and have a game like that, I think he knows he’s been playing well, but to go out there and be able to walk away with some stats to show is always a good feeling.”
The Patriots must trim their roster from 89 players to 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m. It would be a surprise at this point if Jackson is left off the roster.
Thumbnail photo via Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports Images