Think back to Week 7 of the 2017 season when the Bears beat the Panthers at home by a score of 17-3. If you remember correctly, the star of that game was rookie safety Eddie Jackson, a fourth round pick out of Alabama. Jackson was responsible for 14 of those points, recovering a fumble for a touchdown while also intercepting a pass from a pick six.
Was it a fluke at the time? Maybe, but as it turns out, it foreshadowed Jackson’s rise to becoming one of the Bears’ most important players.
Fast forward to 2018 and the Bears are relevant, NFC North leading relevant. They’ve won five games in a row to move to 8-3 and are comfortably ahead of the rest of the division. While the offense features plenty of talent, it’s the All-Star defense that truly defines how good this team is. Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Bryce Callahan are just several of the stars on this version of the Monsters of the Midway.
Thanks to a couple of extremely impressive primetime performances, Jackson’s notoriety is increasing. This brings up a question among people watching him for the first time: Why did he fall to the fourth round?
Well, scouts were afraid of drafting him high due to the injuries he suffered in college, most notably a broken leg his last year of college football. Teams knew how talented he was, but weren’t willing to take the risk of spending a higher draft pick on him. Also I think the injuries combined with his age (turned 25 in December of his rookie season) helped scare scouts.
Chicago took on Jackson despite this and since Week 1 of his rookie season he’s been a starting safety, a really, really good one at that. His second season in the NFL has five games left and he’s still scored five defensive touchdowns. Through 11 games in 2018 Jackson has eight pass disruptions, four interceptions, two pick sixes, one fumble returned for a touchdown, one sack, one quarterback hit, and two tackles for loss.
That’s extremely impressive for a fourth round pick, although Jackson should never have been in that position. He’s without a doubt one of the best safeties of 2018 and we’re going to look at a few of his highlights to show why he’s so good.
Here, the Bills run a zone blocking scheme with misdirection sprinkled in the mix. Jackson (#39) is lined up on the weak side of the formation. Former quarterback-turned receiver Terrelle Pryor is in the wildcat for the zone read.
Tight end Logan Thomas (himself a former quarterback, wearing #82) is pulled out to block anyone in space, and Jackson happens to be that guy. But it doesn’t go as planned for Thomas.
As soon as Pryor pulls the ball back, Jackson knows to stay in the weak side underneath and cover his lane. And once Pryor moves his way, Jackson cuts outside and remains patient. Thomas isn’t expecting Jackson to cut inside, which he does, throwing Thomas off guard. With quick hip movement Jackson is able to drag Pryor down on the tackle for a loss.
What really stands out watching Jackson is how near flawlessly he shadows the quarterback’s every instinct on time, sometimes looking like he’s the guy the QB is targeting. His quickness doing it means he does it a lot, so here’s a few more examples of that.
Now while watching this GIF you may have noticed Jackson came out of nowhere to break this pass up. Let’s take a look at how he was able to accomplish that from the end zone angle.
As you can see Jackson is lined up at the top just outside the hashes. The Jets run a switch concept (two of them, actually!), but Jackson’s intelligence on the field can’t be beat.
In a way this looks eerily similar to the pick six Jackson had on Thanksgiving against the Lions (more on that later). Jackson recognizes the shallow crossing route Jermaine Kearse is running on the switch concept and spies Sam Darnold the entire way. He wastes no time undercutting Kearse’s route, extending his wingspan and swatting the pass to the ground.
Kyle Fuller also decks Kearse just as the pass falls to the ground, but that’s for another time.
Jackson saved his two biggest plays on the season in back-to-back primetime games, and that’s only skyrocketed his reputation as a premiere young safety in the league. I am of course talking about the pick sixes he had against Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford three and a half days apart. Coincidentally, both plays occurred on the very first play of each drive.
Jackson is lined up at the bottom left of the start of the play. Kirk Cousins makes the fatal mistake of failing to look off Jackson and instead locks onto his intended receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Just after Cousins turns to face the area of his receiver, Jackson gets set to make him pay. Jackson plants his feet and accelerates to the intended spot Cousins is throwing to. You can pretty much say Jackson is running Treadwell’s route for him (not a surprise considering how underwhelming Treadwell’s career has been), and with blockers in front gets his first of two pick sixes in the span of (I repeat) 3.5 days.
This is one of the most impressive defensive plays you’ll see all season, and it’s one that helped earn Jackson the second Defensive Player of the Week award of his career.
The timing the young safety displays on this pick six almost implies that he was in the Lions huddle all along, as he knew Detroit was going to throw to the H-back in the flat. It helps that Matthew Stafford gave Jackson some help by staring down his receiver from the start. If you do that with a defensive back watching, you’re getting picked.
Once it’s made clear that the H-back, Michael Roberts, is positioned as a pass catcher, Jackson sprints to the ball, undercutting the route for the easiest yet most spectacular pick six of his career to date.
To conclude, Eddie Jackson is the definition of a ball hawk. He’s one of the smartest safeties I’ve seen this season, with his quick instincts and reaction time seemingly putting him at the right place at the right time. His speed allows him to run what feels like miles just to break up or intercept the pass, and his ability to spy the quarterback near flawlessly has made him a special player.
All in all, Eddie Jackson is easily having a Pro Bowl-worthy season, and is only getting better at this point as one of the league’s best safeties.