FOXBORO, Mass. — Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the New England Patriots have something in an undrafted rookie cornerback.
JC Jackson received the first start of his career Sunday in the Patriots’ 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings and asserted himself well no matter who he was covering.
We wrote this week that Jackson deserved more playing time before the Patriots’ playoff run. He played 54 snaps — the most of his rookie campaign — and allowed just four catches on seven targets for 23 yards, according to Pro Football Focus with a pass breakup that caused an interception by safety Duron Harmon.
“I just felt like I was ready,” Jackson said Sunday after the game. “I prepared all week. I knew I had to come and make plays, that the team depended on me. So, I just had to show them.”
He’s now let up just 13 catches on 24 targets for 150 yards this season. He has two interceptions. Throw in the interception by Harmon, which came on a target toward Jackson, and he’s allowed just a 33.7 passer rating in eight games.
His performance really didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has been following Jackson closely this season, least of all his teammates.
“Man, Jerald Jackson is a heck of a player,” fellow cornerback Jason McCourty said. “Watching him from spring on, he’s a guy that when he turns and looks for the ball, elite as far as getting the ball, attacking the ball. You saw on the one Du had, he’s running, he’s looking at the ball/ Robinson gets a little behind him, there’s no panic because he can read that ball as well as a receiver.
“For him, there’s plays he makes in practice that we see week in and week out. He has some special talents. He’s a guy that I think moments and stuff are so big for him that he doesn’t even think about it. He’s just out there playing football. It doesn’t matter if he was covering (Laquon) Treadwell, (Adam) Thielen, (Stefon) Diggs, he’s just out there doing his thing. It’s fun to watch young guys just step up and every opportunity he’s got, he’s made the most out of.
The Patriots have been working McCourty into the slot in recent weeks so it wouldn’t be surprising if Jackson continues to receive No. 3 cornerback reps over Jonathan Jones moving forward.
McCourty wasn’t the only cornerback to comment on Jackson’s “elite” talents.
“The thing about him, he’s got elite ball skills,” Stephon Gilmore said. “You can’t teach that. He knows how to find the ball and get his head around and make plays on the ball. When you’ve got someone like that, it’s pretty good.”
So, where did he develop those ball skills?
“I was a receiver,” Jackson said. “I was an All-American receiver. I just moved to DB when I got to college. So, I’m a receiver for real. I got receiver hands, but I play DB.”
Thielen and Robinson complained to refs late in the third quarter, believing flags should be thrown on two incompletions in which Jackson was targeted. He didn’t see it that way.
“The ref told me after the play, he was like, ‘Man, that’s good coverage.’ He said, ‘that’s as good of coverage as I’ve seen.’ I wasn’t holding or anything,” Jackson said. “I just didn’t look back for the ball. There wasn’t a (pass interference).
“I panicked a little bit, though. I came back and told the guys, ‘Man, I pulled a little back.’ But I was panicking, man.”
So, where does Jackson stack up among other rookie cornerbacks safety Harmon has seen come through Gillette Stadium?
“He’s good, man,” Harmon said. “You can just tell. For him to be in this game today and be able to get the trust of the team to go out there and not only play but play at a high level, it lets you know that he’s really good.”
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.