INDIANAPOLIS — Josh Jackson played primarily in zone defenses at Iowa, where he led the nation in both interceptions (8) and passes defensed (26).
Now the former Hawkeyes cornerback has his sights set on becoming a first-round NFL draft selection, the first for the Iowa program since 1997. Jackson wasn’t asked to play man defense much, but his skills could translate very quickly into that style of defensive football.
During the NFL combine, Jackson put up 18 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press. That was the third-best output for any cornerback and it shows the 6-foot-1, 192-pound prospect has the strength to shove around wide receivers.
With that kind of strength coupled with the best ball skills of any cornerback in the draft, Jackson has plenty to offer any NFL team. Only, he’s so humble it’s difficult to get him to admit he’s the best.
When asked if he’s the best at his position entering the draft, Jackson replied in his soft-spoken Texas accent, “I believe so.”
“I’m a playmaker,” he added. “Whatever team I go to they’re going to be able to rely on me to be accountable. I’m a playmaker.”
Speed will be the one factor determining whether he’s a top-10 player or drafted somewhere from 11 to 20. Monday, Jackson runs the 40-yard dash and hopes to break 4.5 seconds. If he can … cha-ching.
“He’s a long press corner, but he’s at his best when he has his eye on the QB,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “When he can jump and be instinctive and go get the football. His ball skills are great. So if he goes out and runs 4.5 plus or minus, I think that’s a good time for him. He doesn’t need to run 4.38. His length and with his ball skills, I think 4.5 is where I have him. Is he that fast? I don’t know. If he runs 4.58, it’s a different conversation. And he might be. But I love his ball skills and his instincts.”
Jackson played in sub-packages in 2015 and 2016 at Iowa before becoming a starter in 2017. By the end of September, he became a shutdown corner. In consecutive November games against Ohio State and Wisconsin, he became a national star.
With 3 interceptions against the Buckeyes, Jackson was tabbed as the national defender of the week. One of his interceptions was one-handed, as he reached back and snagged a J.T. Barrett pass near the goal line.
“I definitely think it helped put me on the map a little bit and get people around the country to know who I am,” Jackson said. “So I think it was a good momentum boost for me.”
Then against the Badgers, Jackson picked off 2 passes and brought both back for touchdowns. He also forced a fumble midway through the game. With 5 interceptions and a forced fumble in 2 games, Jackson became known as college football’s best cornerback. Opponents also knew he was dangerous.
“An NFL player, guys that have gone on and played in the NFL that I’ve played against, you’ve always got to account for them in any situation, especially Josh Jackson,” Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee. “When you’re throwing the ball, he can turn his body in a 180 and make any play, similar to a wide receiver. So you’ve got to always know where he’s at and who he’s covering in any situation.”
As a junior, Jackson was asked weekly if he was considering the NFL. At the time, Jackson worried simply about competing alongside his teammates and not his future. But as the interception total grew and his accolades soared, leaving early was a real possibility.
Jackson was named a unanimous first-team All-American, the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year and a finalist for the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. Iowa played in an early bowl game, which allowed Jackson to think through the process before he came to the right decision.
Joining Jackson in weighing an NFL decision was Iowa center James Daniels. Both of them received second-round grades.
“I definitely wanted to wait until after the season,” Jackson said. “I wanted to respect my team and my teammates. After talking to coaches, and all of my teammates, they were very supportive of what I wanted to do and thought it was the best decision. I thought it was the best decision, so I wanted to forgo my senior season and take the opportunity for a shot at the league.”
By the time of his media session at the NFL combine, Jackson had met with 14 teams. He had another 12 meetings scheduled for Sunday night. That’s when teams will get to know him, and presumably see his high character. He’ll also show off his football acumen.
“I want to be able to show them I’m knowledgeable and that I know what I’m talking about in the film room,” Jackson said. “I have the athletic ability, but I want to show off that I’m smart on the football field as well.”