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Free agent profile: Cornerback William Jackson

Jackson is considered the top free agent corner available and would instantly improve the Broncos secondary.

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Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

One big area of need facing the Denver Broncos and newly hired General Manager George Paton is the team's cornerback unit. The unit struggled at times in 2020, dealt with injuries and suspensions throughout the year, and is one of the bigger glaring weaknesses the team has right now. So, I expect the Broncos to add some talent and depth to this position during free agency. One player who could fill this need and potentially interest the Broncos is a former first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, cornerback, William Jackson.

Player Profile

Height: 6’0”
Weight: 196 pounds
Age 28:
Experience: 5 NFL Seasons

William Jackson III was considered one of the top cornerback prospects heading into the 2016 NFL Draft after having a productive college career at Houston. He ended up being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft with the teams 24th overall selection. Since then, Jackson has become a solid player and has played his entire career with the Bengals as a consistent player in their secondary.

During Jackson’s five-year career with the Bengals, he has totaled 150 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 3 interceptions, 41 pass deflections, 1 sack, 1 defensive touchdown, and 1 quarterback hit. This past season for the Bengals, Jackson played in 14 games and totaled 45 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception, and 11 pass deflections.

Why it makes sense

Jackson is considered the top cornerback available this offseason and could instantly step in as the Broncos' number one corner come week one of the 2021 season. This would allow Bryce Callahan to focus on the slot more and let 2020 rookie Michael Ojemudia serve as the Broncos number three corner.

According to Pro Football Focus, he’s ranked as their 16th best free agent this offseason and their top available cornerback currently.

Jackson was the Bengals’ first-round pick in 2016 and is playing in 2020 on a $9.6 million fifth-year option. After tearing his pectoral and being lost for the year before his rookie campaign even kicked off, Jackson responded with a 90.2 defensive grade in his (redshirt) sophomore season - the sixth-best defensive grade for a cornerback in a second season since 2011. The players ahead of him feature a slate of all-pros. We expected Jackson to become one of the game’s best corners after that season and it never happened. He hasn’t had a season within 15 grading points of that year since, and while he allowed a passer rating of 36.1 when targeted in that great year, he has allowed one of at least 86 in each subsequent season. The situation in Cincinnati has been ugly, but the prospect that Jackson will become the great player he threatened to be is getting less and less likely.

Also according to Pro Football Focus, Jackson was given a 71.4 overall grade which graded out as the 20th best cornerback in the league this past season. In the past, he was given a 53.6 grade in 2019 and a 73.4 overall grade in 2018. So that is two very good seasons with one below-average mixed in.

The situation in Cincinnati has been a mess recently, but Jackson has been one of their lone bright spots. I think he could really flourish outside of Cincinnati with a better team and scheme. That is why I think he makes a lot of sense for the Broncos. He’ll be joining a better scheme with Vic Fangio running the defense so ideally, he would have a solid career with the Broncos.

I believe he’s a scheme versatile corner who’s also a reliable tackler which makes him a great fit for Fangio’s defense.

Why it doesn’t make sense

With Jackson being one of the best if not the best cornerback’s available in free agency this offseason, he’s expected to get paid top dollar. Add in the need of cornerback’s and that cornerback is a premium position and you’re likely seeing him get over $10 million per season from someone.

Pro Football Focus is projecting Jackson to get a three-year deal worth $40 million dollars with $22.5 million guaranteed money included and averaging $13.3 million per season. If that’s what he gets(if not more), that’s quite a lot of money. Especially considering the Broncos will already likely be giving safety Justin Simmons a pretty big long-term deal this offseason as well.

Also, while Jackson is the top corner on the market, he has never been elite nor a ballhawk, so is really worth throwing top dollar at?

Final Thoughts

While I think Jackson would be a solid fit, I am not overly excited about paying him top dollar when he has never been an elite corner or a ballhawk at the position. It would be a risky deal where you may never get the bang for your buck.

Also, he’ll likely have a competitive market so his price tag may go past that projected deal by Pro Football Focus. So, I’m okay looking elsewhere for cornerback help for the Broncos.

Also, keep in mind that Fangio’s scheme doesn’t call for elite cornerback play. so throwing money at a top corner isn’t exactly necessary. So, while I think he would be a good fit, I’m not paying him the money it will likely take to get him.


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