IOWA CITY, Iowa — Josh Jackson isn’t one to shy away from lofty expectations. He set them at Iowa and is the only one who expected himself to transform into one of the nation’s top defensive backs last season.
It’s no surprise he’s setting high hopes for the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
“I am looking to get fast in the 40,” Jackson told the NFLDraftInsider.com in February. “4.4 or under.”
He is in the running to become the first cornerback selected in the draft. The lower his time, the higher he’ll climb cornerback rankings. It’s why his 40-yard dash time on Monday is key to ensuring it happens.
Why the sprint matters
The 40-yard dash isn’t the end all be all of football evaluations. Straight line speed doesn’t guarantee success in pads and rarely is a player running 40 yards in one play.
Iowa players don’t run the 40. This is part of the reason why.
But for Jackson, it was his biggest concern entering the combine. This is from his NFL.com draft profile: “Questions are being raised about his long speed.”
Front office executives and scouts are curious about his quickness.
“What he has to show is at what level can he run?” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a February conference call. “Is he a sub-4.5 guy? Is he a sub-4.55 guy, or is he a 4.6 guy? We’re going to find out.”
The path to the No. 1 cornerback
There isn’t a consensus No. 1 cornerback in this draft. Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick is a likely top five pick, but he’s a safety with the versatility to play the nickel as a corner.
Former Ohio State star Denzel Ward and Jackson are the top two potential shutdown cornerbacks on most prognosticators draft boards.
At 6-foot, Jackson brings the height and length NFL teams crave. He is a ballhawk and anticipates plays before they happen.
Like Jackson, Ward excels at making plays. He is arguably the best cover corner in the draft and his athleticism will play well in a combine setting.
Not much separates the two in the eyes of evaluators, but it isn’t going to take much for one to jump above the other.
Ward holds the quickness advantage. He can run a 4.3 40-yard dash and believes he can hit 4.2.
Jackson won’t top Ward in the 40, but he can end questions about his speed with a 4.4 40. It also eliminates Ward’s biggest edge. At that point, the most obvious difference between the two is height.
If Jackson is 2 inches taller and the 40 becomes a wash, there isn’t as much reason for NFL teams to rank Ward in front of Jackson.
Speed is money
Jackson isn’t just competing with Ward. Cornerback is a premium position and NFL teams aren’t afraid to spend a top 10 pick on one.
Right now, teams don’t view Jackson as a top 10 pick. Most mock drafts project him as a mid-to-late first-round selection. Green Bay, at No. 14, is a common landing spot.
Defensive end Derek Barnett went No. 14 overall last year to the Philadelphia Eagles. He signed a four-year, $12.85 million contract with a signing bonus of nearly $7.5 million.
That’s nothing to complain about, but it’s not the same as top 10 money, either. It’s possible Jackson goes to the Bears at No. 8. Cornerback is one of several positions Chicago is considering and general manager Ryan Pace scouted Jackson in person during the Wisconsin game.
Running back Christian McCaffrey signed a four-year, $17.2 million deal with a $10.2 million signing bonus as the No. 8 pick in 2017.
A 4.4 40 could help Jackson make a few extra million dollars on his first contract. The money is nice, but being the first cornerback taken matters, too.
Especially when you view yourself that way.
“I think I am the best,” Jackson told NFLDraftInsider.com.
If he runs a 4.4 40, he won’t be the only one saying it.