J.C. Jackson was asked Wednesday about the New England Patriots’ loaded cornerback room. He summed that unit up in one word.
“Scary,” Jackson said after the Patriots’ latest training camp practice. “It’s a scary sight, man.”
Indeed it is.
The Patriots boasted the NFL’s deepest and most talented collection of corners in 2019, and that entire position group is back this season — a level of continuity rarely seen in the NFL.
Its leader, Stephon Gilmore, is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, having become the first cornerback in a decade to take home that prestigious honor. Gilmore led the league in passes defended (20) last season, finished tied for first in interceptions (six) and is unrivaled in his ability to eliminate an opponent’s top receiving threat.
Jackson led the league in passer rating against (37.0) in 2019 and has been nearly unbeatable on deep passes since he joined the Patriots as an undrafted rookie in 2018 (six interceptions, three receptions allowed on passes of 20-plus yards, per Pro Football Focus).
Gilmore and veteran corner Jason McCourty both have raved about Jackson’s potential.
“I tell him all the time,” McCourty said last month on his podcast, “I think he has the potential to be — when you talk about some of the best corners in our game, I feel like he’s right there, and he’s only scratched the surface of how good he can possibly be as a corner. So I believe a ton in J.C. I think (the) sky’s the limit for him.”
In Jackson, Gilmore and McCourty, the Patriots featured three of the NFL’s top 11 cornerbacks in terms of passer rating against (minimum 100 coverage snaps). The 33-year-old McCourty now is healthy after missing most of the second half of last season with a groin injury.
Led by that trio and star safety Devin McCourty, New England led the NFL in interceptions and interception rate last season and ranked second in passing yards allowed per game and per attempt.
Slot corner Jonathan Jones remains in the mix, as well, and has the versatility to rotate over to safety in the Patriots’ defense. Joejuan Williams played sparingly as a rookie but has rare physical tools at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, and Justin Bethel, who seldom sees the field on defense, is one of the NFL’s premier punt gunners.
Rounding out this year’s group are three roster long shots: 2019 training camp standout D’Angelo Ross, undrafted rookie Myles Bryant and trade acquisition Michael Jackson, who intercepted a Jarrett Stidham pass during Tuesday’s camp practice.