There was much debate this off-season about a Chicago Bears safety and the value of his true worth to the club and in comparison with the rest of the league. ProFootballFocus is a controversial data site that offers opinions on players based on film study and analytics. The rankings caused a stir this past season when Adrian Amos was given a scouting grade of 92.0, placing him in the publication’s elite category and onto its annual PFF All-Pro Team. Many observers rightfully questioned this opinion and wondered how a safety that couldn’t be considered the best in his respective division could possibly be among the best in the sport. The folks at PFF were correct that the Bears would have one of the best players in the sport patrolling the middle of the secondary in 2018. They just had the wrong player.
If Eddie Jackson were Picasso the gridiron would be his masterpiece. The 6’0″ 200 pound ballhawk is having a marvelous sophomore campaign. His success shouldn’t be deemed a huge surprise after his successful rookie season but it’s still a promising development. In his first year with the Bears, the 25-year-old compiled 73 tackles and showed a propensity to find footballs. He scored two touchdowns to go along with two interceptions, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries while acting as the compass of defense’s backend.
After scoring another touchdown and sealing a victory in Detroit on Thanksgiving, Jackson has five scores so far in his career. Eddie has picked up 38 tackles on the season with 4 interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Numbers like these are a staggering compilation to produce in just 27 career games.
That’s 12 safeties taken before Eddie Jackson. Jackson has 3 more touchdowns than all 12 combined
— Stephen Letizia (@StephenLetizia) November 23, 2018
This type of playmaking ability at the safety position has been an afterthought since the departure of Mike Brown in Chicago. The front seven of the Bears unit is the cog that makes everything run smoothly but the impact that Jackson has provided just cannot be overstated. Not only will the former Alabama standout be elected to the Pro Bowl, he should be a leading contender to be named First All-Pro after the season.
Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings and Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans were named First Team All-Pro at the safety position in 2017. Smith posted 78 tackles with 7 for loss, 5 interceptions and 12 passes defensed. Byard made 87 tackles with 8 interceptions, 16 passes defensed and 2 fumble recoveries. Both of those players had exceptional years that were recognized by the Associated Press. Jackson is on pace to eclipse many of those numbers and he’s mesmerizing with the ball in his hands.
Scouting is an Inexact Science
Jackson broke his leg as a senior at the University of Alabama and missed much of the season. A torn ACL also caused him to miss time back in 2014. He didn’t post agility numbers or run at the scouting combine in the lead-up to the 2017 draft. The safety class was seen as a strong one and Eddie was usually on the outside looking in at prospect rankings. Ryan Pace traded up in the 4th round to use the 112th overall selection on the Crimson Tide standout. It was an obvious gamble but the potential reward seemed to outweigh the risk at the time.
Boy was I wrong about Eddie Jackson. Thought he was too lean for safety and the Alabama defense made him look better than he was. Turns out, he’s actually just pretty good.
In Matt Miller’s scouting notes at BleacherReport, he praised Eddie Jackson for being a four-year starter for the Tide and mentioned his ability to play over the top. The veteran draft analyst called him “rangy” while reporting that he’s “comfortable in space and possesses speed and agility to track the football in the air”. Miller also noted Jackson’s “natural athleticism” and surmised that he had good instincts and play recognition when the ball was in front of him while also showing excellent reaction time and closing speed.
The rangy playmaker got on the field for Alabama in 38 games. That is no small task when considering the nature of Nick Saban’s coaching style and his background in the defensive secondary. Even back then, Eddie showed a propensity to transform into a superhero with the ball in his grasp. He compiled 126 tackles in the SEC with 9 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 3 touchdowns while adding 2 punt return touchdowns as well.
Alabama Highlights Courtesy of Legions Highlights
The footage above is a snapshot of the positives listed in the pre-draft scouting report. The plaudits that were heaped upon him make the safety sound like a top-50 prospect. So the logical question would be to wonder how he fell into the 4th round. The injuries suffered in college and his advanced age for a prospect probably didn’t help matters but Miller listed some negatives in his profile that could have given some pause to evaluators in addition to those warts.
It was said that Jackson had “below-average instincts” when asked to cover and read offenses. The report also called him a “finesse player” without great physicality. The injuries he’d sustained also prevented him from doing any pre-draft work which was probably the biggest red flag of all. Jackson’s slender frame also led some evaluators to believe that he wouldn’t be durable enough to hold up in the NFL. There is also a stigma when it comes to Alabama players that they are often maxed at with a low amount of upside due to the sheer magnitude of what is required to play for that program. Miller suggested at the time that Jackson might have been benefitting from “overinflated value” due to his teammates.
The Bears are thrilled that Eddie’s shortcomings pushed him into the 4th round. The front office was able to land a top-50 caliber talent with a non-premium pick due to some extenuating circumstances. The fit in Chicago is a great benefit to both player and team. An exciting style of football is being played on the lakefront and Jackson’s brand might be the most exciting. In a hat filled with feathers, Eddie Jackson may be Ryan Pace’s biggest to date.
Follow James on twitter– Feature Photo Credit: AP