It’s no secret that the Denver Broncos are looking for help in the secondary, both in free agency and the draft. With Bradley Roby reportedly hitting the open market, and Darian Stewart being released, the Broncos are down two starters from what was already a struggling secondary last season.
Denver needs help at both safety and corner, so why not bring in a guy who can play both?
Weight: 185 lbs
Age: 31 (next month)
Experience: 10th year (all with Houston)
Kareem Jackson was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft by the Texans, and re-signed with Houston after his rookie deal for a four year $34 million contract, which he played out in its entirety, a rare thing in the NFL.
With the Texans reportedly prioritizing re-signing Tyrann Mathieu, and also having Jadaveon Clowney up for a new contract, Kareem Jackson might be hitting free agency for the first time in his career.
Why this makes sense
Jackson had one of his best seasons as a pro last year as he flew all around the defensive backfield making plays, to the tune of a career high 87 tackles, 17 pass defensed (#3 in the league), two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Denver has been in need of another playmaker in the secondary since Aqib Talib was let go, and Jackson can fit that bill as he showed aggression, toughness, and excellent play recognition on film last year.
After playing his whole career at corner, Jackson was asked in the off-season to play safety, as the Texans were thin there due to injury. He shifted to safety seamlessly and played the first quarter of the season there, until injuries at corner forced Houston to move him back.
His coaches and teammates took notice of his play last season, and the versatility he showed.
“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.”
While at safety, Jackson showed excellent ability to run the alley and fill against the run game, and was sure tackler, ranking #4, right behind Landon Collins, in run stops on the season, according to Pro Football Focus.
When shifting back to corner, Jackson brought that same tenacity and toughness to his game, and continued to lay the wood out on the edge.
Vic Fangio said a non-negotiable in his defense is tackling.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) March 9, 2019
Not quite sure, but I think this is good. pic.twitter.com/quER3FvQFO
Vic Fangio said at his combine press conference that tackling was a non-negotiable in his defense. That players “have to be able to tackle”. Well, Jackson fits that bill. When the Broncos played Houston this past year, Jackson popped off the tape as he repeatedly stuck his nose in the passing and running game, disrupting Denver’s offense.
I think Jackson would be a great fit in Vic Fangio’s scheme with the multiple coverages he runs, due to Jackson’s intelligence, play recognition, and finishing ability. Last year, he played 135 snaps at free safety, 117 snaps in the box, 328 snaps in the slot, and 467 snaps out wide; and did all of it at a high level.
I don’t care what position Denver decides to label him as. You could play him at slot with Chris Harris playing outside corner, or play him at free safety in base downs, or have him line up out wide across from Harris in two corner sets. Put him back there, and let him go make plays.
Why this doesn’t makes sense
The biggest question mark in free agency is always going to be price. At 31 years old, I’m not sure Jackson would command top dollar, but after the season he had in a slim cornerback market, there could be multiple teams bidding for his services.
Former Falcons cornerback Robert Alford recently signed a deal with Arizona that can give us some insight into the potential market for a defensive back over 30. Although Alford didn’t have near the impact Jackson did last year, this could be a decent range to look at as a benchmark.
If Denver was able to get Jackson on deal similar to this, I would be all over it. However, given his play last year, it may turn into more of a bidding war and get too rich for Denver to play ball.
The other caution is his age, but shifting to more of a hybrid safety/corner role should help prolong his career if he begins to lose some of his 4.4 speed, although, he didn’t look to be slowing down any last year.
Jackson also had a knee injury late in the season last year, but ended up not missing any time.
I’m struggling to come up with reasons why this doesn’t make sense, because I think it’s a perfect fit for Denver and Vic Fangio’s defense. Jackson could be just what the doctor ordered for the Broncos ailing secondary, and would give Fangio another veteran back there to fill the gap as Fangio and Donatell attempt to restock and groom their draft picks.