IOWA CITY, Iowa — A year ago, NFL talent evaluators didn’t know who cornerback Josh Jackson was. Heck, even casual Iowa football fans probably struggled to identify him.
He started one game in his first three years on campus. But all he needed to show his ability as a shutdown collegiate corner was one season as a starter.
After earning consensus All-American honors in 2017, Jackson is one of the most well-known cornerbacks in the NFL draft. His meteoric rise continued when the Green Bay Packers selected Jackson No. 45 overall in the second round on Friday.
“The guy is a special player,” Iowa cornerback Manny Rugamba told Land of 10.
Here is Jackson’s path to the 2018 NFL Draft.
Jackson was an under-the-radar prospect from Lake Dallas High School (Texas), just north of Dallas. The Hawkeyes were his only Power 5 Conference offer despite earning all-district honors. His other suitors were Colorado State, Nevada and New Mexico State.
He committed to Iowa in August 2013 and arrived on campus roughly a year later. Jackson redshirted in 2014 before seeing minimal action as a reserve as a redshirt freshman. He played in all 14 games, recording 8 tackles and 2 pass breakups in 2015.
He started climbing the depth chart and made the most of a late-season opportunity in 2016. Jackson entered the lineup when a shoulder injury sidelined Rugamba in the regular-season finale against Nebraska. He played most of the game and started the Outback Bowl, more than holding his own. He made 5 tackles and 2 pass breakups in the two games.
After getting a taste of starting, Jackson threw himself into offseason workouts before his junior year to claim a starting spot. He did extra film sessions and position work on his own to fine-tune his fundamentals.
“I would say coming in I always wanted to play defense and be a starter,” Jackson told Land of 10 last fall. “You can’t really just prepare when you think you have the opportunity. I have been preparing since I was a freshman when I got here to really get better.
“The opportunity came in the spring and I really tried to lay it all out there so I could earn a spot, grow and become the best player I can be.”
He locked up a starting spot in preseason camp and went on to become one of Iowa’s best defenders. He led the nation with a combined 26 passes defended, including 8 interceptions. Jackson also made 48 tackles while earning All-American honors from 11 outlets.
He declared for the draft in January.
NFL draft prep
At 6-foot, 196 pounds, Jackson comes equipped with the long, lengthy body NFL teams prefer at cornerback. His size helps him bat down footballs and his athleticism allows him to stay with wide receivers in coverage.
“I’ve heard people talk about, is he the next Richard Sherman?” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a February teleconference.
“What I like about him is he can play zone. He understands what the No. 2 and 3 receivers are doing when he’s out on No. 1. He’s got great eyes, great instincts, and he trusts them. It’s rare when you get a corner that has great instincts.”
NFL teams were curious about Jackson’s speed at the NFL combine. He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and his position drills left some analysts wondering if his draft stock was falling.
Those concerns seemed to fade away some. He was projected as a first-round pick. He fell to the second round where he’ll begin his pro career in Green Bay.