The Broncos’ first signing of free agency addressed a major area of need - talent and depth in the secondary. Denver signed former Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson as its first move of free agency, giving Vic Fangio another piece on the back end.
Now, we take a deep dive into the film to see what Jackson brings to Denver and where he fits best in Vic Fangio’s defense.
“He is killing it,” Watt said of Jackson. “That hit [on Sunday] was one of the hardest hits I have seen on a football field. It was clean. It was a great hit.
”He has been doing that all year. He has been getting interceptions, making big hits, and making tackles. And he is obviously moving around. For him to be able to do that, to have that versatility, to be willing to do that in his ninth year, it has been great and been a big help to our team.”
“Kareem [Jackson] knows the defense,” said defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel. “Kareem studies the opponent and knows what their strengths and weaknesses are and knows how to put himself in position to possibly make plays ... So, all of the success he’s had is because of the type of player he is and how he studies and prepares during the week.”
One of Jackson’s biggest selling points is his versatility. After playing most of his career at corner, he shifted to safety in 2018 for a portion of the season before moving back to corner due to injuries on the Texans, but in that time he proved he can play anywhere on the backend.
“That’s one of his strong suits,” said Fangio. “He can play corner, safety, nickel, so we’ll use him where we most need him and that best fits him.”
That’s one of the biggest questions I have seen from Denver fans since the signing is wondering where exactly Kareem will line up on Sundays. I don’t think it really matters much what you designate him as position-wise. I have been calling him just a defensive back, because that’s the role I think he’ll play, and it will likely change from game to game.
Last year, the Texans really used him all over the defense, and some of it was matchup based. For instance, when they played Dallas, they lined Jackson up over Cole Beasley for a majority of the game, which had him playing the slot more. Against Indianapolis, Jackson lined up some in the slot, and some out wide. Against New England, he alternated between covering Gronkowski, the slot, and out wide.
So I would expect that the game plan for Jackson will morph week to week, especially given the versatility Denver already has in the secondary with Harris able to play inside and out, Simmons able to play all over, and Cravens/Parks in the mix too.
Fangio echoed that at today’s press conference:
“It gives us a lot of options. Just from week to week we might be able to line him up where we feel he best fits to defend the team we’re playing. He’s smart enough to learn all the different positions. He’s proven it in games and on tape that he can execute the positions, not just know what do to do, but play them competitively and at a high level. It’s a big advantage and it helps when you’re looking at other players that you have guys that can move around.”
Jackson said during his press conference that he likes playing everywhere.
“I kinda enjoy floating around, playing everywhere,” Jackson said. “I feel like that can be an advantage for us as a team, game-planning wise, depending on what type of skillsets the offense possesses in terms of the guys that they have, and not knowing where I’ll be week in and week out can be an advantage for us.”
This is just one example Jackson moving all over. As I was building out all the clips below, I began to label them based on where he lined up because he made plays from nearly every alignment. As Fangio said, Jackson not only lines up everywhere, but does so at a high level, as proved by his affect on offenses’ passing games.
The first thing that pops off the tape about Jackson is his run support. He runs the alley and fills against the run like a true safety, not a corner who just moved back there. (Apologies for the weird GIF speeds. Technical error on my part!)
His ability to sniff out plays from the free safety position, and scream down to the ball from 20 yards away is impressive.
Although he is relatively small in size, he is not afraid to stick his nose in the thick of the play, and is always pursuing the ball no matter where he is on the field.
This one below was one of the more impressive stops to me. He’s playing the slot, and reads the run in enough time to shoot the B-gap and stop the running back in his tracks.
There were plenty of examples of Jackson shutting down runs on the edge as a corner as well, but I wanted to highlight some of his plays from the safety and nickel position, because I think he could play in a safety slot in base packages if Denver wanted him too.
I have zero concerns with Jackson in run support, which is an underrated part of playing defensive back, and even more critical in a zone-heavy scheme where the corner may have edge contain responsibilities at times.
Pairing him with Chris Harris gives Denver two of the more willing tacklers and savvy run defenders at the corner position in the league.
In addition to a nose for the ball, Jackson finishes well once he gets there. We all remember this play below when Houston came to Denver.
But Jackson is more than just a big hitter. His timing of hits and recognition of routes that allow him to be in a position to make the hit, is what makes him stand out.
Here’s one of those run stops from the corner position. We all know how quick Philip Lindsay is, and once he turns the corner, he can be gone. Jackson may have saved a touchdown here.
Jackson’s sound tackling is going to be key in Fangio’s system as he often will play coverage back to protect deep, making the offense earn every yard, while having his backend rally to the ball and tackle.
“I’ve always been like that. I kind of pride myself on being physical, kind of imposing my will on the receivers or running backs if I get the chance. Throughout my career, I’ve just always been that type of guy—kind of get down in the line and be physical and tackle.”
This play below is a prime example of why Fangio emphasizes tackling so much, and why it’s critical to a defensive back. This is Jackson’s teammate on the other side, Kevin Johnson who I stumbled across while watching tape.
So many teams - note that the Saints and Patriots make a killing on this - when they get into the red zone will create space for their playmakers and just flip it out to them, daring the corners to come tackle them.
Johnson gives up a touchdown here due to poor tackling.
Don’t let him moving around and spending time at safety fool you, Jackson can absolutely hold his own at cornerback, and thrive in the right system.
He excels most as a zone corner, but showed chops in man coverage as well, when he’s able to play off and break toward the ball, or trail in the receiver’s hip pocket like he does nicely below.
His route recognition is what sets him apart in coverage, in my opinion. Has a good understanding of what the offense is trying to do, and anticipates it. Here, Denver is running its classic slant/flat.
This is a 3rd and short, and tape study showed that this is a go-to play for Denver, and that Keenum often looked for his receivers on these money downs as opposed to the back. Usually Sanders on the out/flat, or Sutton on the slant.
Jackson anticipates and breaks perfectly on the ball causing the incompletion.
One of the things he talked about at his introductory press conference about seeing the whole field and recognizing what the offense is trying to do:
Preparing and knowing what the offenses are doing. Like I said, being able to see the entire field on both sides whether its receiver splits, whether its recognizing how deep the back is or just little things that that...You kind of have to get a feel for receiver splits [and] formations. Just little things like that can definitely help in your preparing and going into the games on Sundays.”
The play below is a great example of that, and a strength of Jackson’s that stuck out on tape. He plays these stack formations very well, and does a good job reading and breaking on the play as it develops.
Jackson is at his best when he can sit back and use his eyes to read the receiver and the QB. Whether that’s in off-man, or zone, he is so sudden and explosive breaking towards the ball once he determines the receiver’s route.
The one thing he struggles with is mirroring at the top of the stem in man coverage. He doesn’t have particularly quick hips, and is susceptible to lateral in/out moves. This was the most egregious one below, but this Indy game in the playoffs, Dontrell Inman really did a number on him with these inside post/corners.
Here is another one. This one should have been a touchdown if Luck had seen it.
That was really the biggest place I saw him struggle, which isn’t unlike Talib when he was here. I would definitely have Chris Harris handling the shifty receivers if they’re going to matchup one on one across the board.
Ideally, Jackson would be primarily in zone, or off-man, as he does well in a bail technique as well. I can also see him doing really well in shallow Cover-2 looks, or Cloud coverages.
This last one is just one that highlights the kind of player you’re getting with Jackson. He hustles and flies to the ball every snap, which really stood out to me on tape and says a lot about the type of player he is.
I said this when I previewed him in free agency, but I think Jackson paired with Fangio’s defense makes way too much sense. I’m really excited to see him excel here under the new scheme, and it sounds like he’s excited too.
“They played some great defense. I’m pretty good friends with [Bears CB] Kyle Fuller and has said nothing but great things about Coach Vic,” Jackson said. “For me, just getting a chance to play with my eyes, be instinctive and react. I don’t know a DB in this league that doesn’t want to be in these types of defenses where they can kind of see the quarterback, read, react and make some plays on the ball.”