How J.C. Jackson’s Receiver Skills Are Paying Off For Patriots’ Secondary

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CINCINNATI — Opposing quarterbacks are learning a harsh lesson this season: When throwing deep against the New England Patriots, target J.C. Jackson at your own risk.

Jackson hauled in two interceptions during the New England Patriots’ 34-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, upping his season total to five. Only Stephon Gilmore, who also had two picks Sunday, has more this season (six).

All eight of Jackson’s career picks — he had three as an undrafted rookie in 2018 — have come on passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield.

“He has the best ball skills I?ve seen, and I?ve seen a lot of corners,” Gilmore said after Sunday’s win. “He plays the ball as good as anybody.?

Safety Duron Harmon also raved about Jackson’s ball skills, which the second-year cornerback originally showcased while moonlighting on New England’s scout-team offense last season.

“I remember J.C.’s first year last year, we were down a scout-team receiver,” Harmon said. “He went over there and played receiver and was making plays, catching the ball, running some good routes. He kept going around saying, ‘I’m really supposed to be a receiver.’ And I was like, ‘No, you’re supposed to be a corner. That’s why you’re here. That’s why you got (signed).’

“But his ball skills are phenomenal. Not too many guys can, on a fade, run with the receiver, turn around, locate the ball, high-point the ball — and he’s done that just continuously over the last two years. I mean, the sky is the limit for that guy right there. What was that, his fifth interception of the year? And he’s, in some ways, our fourth cornerback. It just shows you the type of ball skills — elite ball skills — that he has.”

Jackson played receiver in high school and had an offer to do so at Florida State before becoming a full-time defensive back. The Patriots are glad he made the switch. Jackson entered Sunday’s game with a passer rating against of 37.2, the best mark in the NFL among all corners with more than 20 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

“He said he played receiver in college,” said Gilmore, who ranked second on that list. “You can tell. When the ball?s in the air, he knows how to play the ball pretty well. He can run, he?s strong, but I think that?s what separates him from a lot of players.”

Jackson has started each of New England’s last five games and has seen his playing time increase of late with Jason McCourty sidelined with a groin injury.

“J.C. has a great deal of humility,” said Matthew Slater, who returned a punt Jackson blocked for a touchdown earlier this season. “… He’s just come in, embraced his role, tried to get better every day. He’s really learned how to become a professional, and every week, he shows up for us and he makes plays. And that’s something that we don’t take for granted. We love to see a young man having success, and I hope he can keep it going.”

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore
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