Before the NFL offseason hits its full swing, NESN.com will be highlighting hidden Patriots: players on New England’s roster who have fallen under the radar for one reason or another. Next up: cornerback Mike Jackson.
Mike Jackson didn’t stand a prayer of making the New England Patriots’ roster in 2020.
He might have a much better shot in 2021.
Traded for a conditional 2022 seventh-round pick days before training camp began to a team loaded at his position, the young cornerback was fighting an uphill battle last summer. After suffering a hamstring injury late in camp, Jackson was waived Sept. 3 but brought back to the Patriots’ practice squad Sept. 28. He stayed there until Jan. 2 when he was promoted to the active roster and played Week 17 against the New York Jets.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound cornerback has impressive size for his position needed to cover bigger receivers but was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Miami by the Dallas Cowboys. He was waived out of his rookie training camp and had a brief stint on the Cowboys’ practice squad prior to being signed away by the Detroit Lions. Jackson played one game for the Lions in 2019 before being traded to the Patriots last August.
Jackson is also an explosive athlete. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash with a 40.5-inch vertical leap, 10-feet, 10-inch broad jump, 4.12-second short shuttle and 7.12-second 3-cone drill at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2019. It’s a miracle that Jackson hasn’t caught on with the Seattle Seahawks at any point because he’s pretty much exactly what they typically look for out of a boundary cornerback.
It’s pretty rare to find a cornerback with Jackson’s combination of size and athleticism. Of the 71 cornerbacks who worked out at the combine since 2019, only 31 have been 6-foot-1 or taller. Of those 31 cornerbacks, only nine have run a 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds or less. Of those nine cornerbacks, only two have recorded a vertical leap over 40 inches: Jackson and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl champion Jamel Dean. Since 2000, only seven cornerbacks who worked out at the combine have measured in over 6-foot-1, run a 40-yard dash of 4.45 seconds or faster and recorded a vertical leap over 40 inches: Jackson, Dean, Jalen Ramsey, Byron Jones, Xavier Rhodes, Ahkello Witherspoon and Kenny Scott. Ramsey, Jones and Rhodes have been Pro Bowl selections. Only Jackson and Rhodes have weighed 210 pounds or heavier.
Jackson let up just a 37.3 passer rating as a junior at Miami when he allowed 24 catches on 47 targets for 237 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions, per PFF. He let up a 79 passer rating, allowing 25 catches on 49 targets for 325 yards with one touchdown as a senior.
The Patriots are entering a fairly uncertain offseason at cornerback. Jason McCourty is an unrestricted free agent, J.C. Jackson will be a restricted free agent and Stephon Gilmore needs a raise or a trade. Jackson, Gilmore, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones, D’Angelo Ross and Dee Virgin are under contract for 2021. With a full offseason and less competition, Jackson has a much better shot of making an impact with the Patriots in 2021 than he did in 2020. He’s had a disappointing start to his NFL career, but it is a good sign that Jackson made it through the season on the Patriots’ practice squad and was signed for Week 17, ensuring he’d be with the team for training camp in 2021.
Jackson also has the size to play safety, if needed. There’s no guarantee he’ll be on the Patriots’ roster when the 2021 season starts, but there’s potential in the young cornerback.