FOXBORO, Mass. — J.C. Jackson isn’t an undrafted rookie anymore, but he’s not taking anything for granted as he enters his second NFL season.
The 23-year-old cornerback was a revelation for the New England Patriots in 2018, taking over a starting role opposite All-Pro Stephon Gilmore during the second half of the season and ranking among the league leaders in passer rating against.
Jackson’s upward trajectory has continued this summer. He’s split first-team reps with veteran Jason McCourty and has been one of the Patriots’ most impressive cover men through three practices.
?Each year, you?ve still got to work your ass off and try to make the roster,” he said after Saturday’s session. “No matter what I did last year, it?s about what I?m going to do this year.?
Jackson made the play of the day Saturday, ranging back in coverage to knock down a Tom Brady deep ball intended for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Thus far, he and Gilmore — who’s hardly been targeted — are the only Patriots defenders with multiple pass breakups in 11-on-11 drills.
?I read it at the last minute,” Jackson admitted as he recapped the play after practice. “I saw (Dorsett) running across the field, and I was supposed to be (covering) deep third. So once I saw him running across the field, I adjusted it, and I made a great breakup — me and McCourty (who tracked Dorsett across the field).?
Jackson also found himself on the wrong end of the top offensive highlight of the morning, allowing a back-shoulder touchdown to 2019 first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry. Afterward, the young corner had high praise for Harry, whose camp performance thus far has been promising but uneven.
?N?Keal, he?s going to be a great guy,” Jackson said. “I feel like he?s got to just keep working — come out here and work and compete — and I think he?ll contribute a lot this year.”
With Jackson, Gilmore, McCourty, Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen all returning, Duke Dawson trying to carve out a role after what amounted to a rookie redshirt and second-round rookie Joejuan Williams now the mix, cornerback arguably is the Patriots’ deepest and most competitive position group. It’s likely at least one of the aforementioned players will need to be cut or traded before the regular season begins. But for now, the competition is helping everyone improve.
?We have a bunch of great DBs in the room,” Jackson said. “You?ve just got to come out here and compete each and every day.”