The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with his insight on the Cincinnati Bengals’ draft class:
The Bengals are soon to reap the benefits from another solid draft, as the first four selections in 2016 all appear to be of starting quality. Their cache from the 2015 draft saw all ten of those selections play for the team last year. They were so impressed with one of their late round finds, that the team let go several key pieces in their secondary to bring fresh legs into the fold. Now, all seven of their draft picks in 2016 have the same opportunity as the previous draft class to claim roster spots.
First Round – William Jackson III, CB (Houston, No. 24)
The Bengals let Leon Hall walk in order to keep Adam Jones, as the right cornerback signed a three-year deal that keeps him in the fold until 2019. The team will make a strong effort to keep Dre Kirkpatrick around as the left cornerback, but he is a free agent after the season and might be in line for a big deal if he can improve upon his 2015 performance.
In 2015, the Bengals covered their potential loss of Andre Smith by drafting two tackles. This year, the Bengals tapped William Jackson III as insurance against Kirkpatrick’s possible departure. If Kirkpatrick goes, then Jackson and 2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard will be counted upon to lead the secondary in 2017 and beyond.
Jackson was considered a “lockdown corner” for the Houston Cougars after he appeared in thirteen games and finished second in the American Athletic Conference with ten pass breakups in 2014. He also picked off two passes and tallied 37 tackles. Last season, the All-American led the nation and set a Houston single-season record with 23 pass deflections. He also led the nation in passes defended with 28, finishing 20th with five interceptions. He concluded his career ranked third on the UH career passes broken up chart with 40, despite only playing three seasons.
Some other “good news” numbers include Jackson recording six turnovers and coming up with 22 third-down stops. On the “bad news” scale, while he defended so many passes, it could be due to quarterbacks constantly throwing into his area. The Cougar was targeted 93 times in 2016, allowing 41 receptions (44.09%) for 460 yards, an average of 11.22 yards per grab, with receivers totaling seven big plays (20 yards or longer) and twenty first downs vs. the defender, reaching the end zone three times. In run support, he made just five tackles.
Jackson is certainly not going to impress you with being a great physical presence on the field, but he does demonstrate excellent speed (4.37 in the 40-yard dash) and jump- ball timing. He is very consistent in being “getting into the face” of a receiver. He opens his hips well when asked to handle switch-offs on deep patterns and moves well in space, but he certainly lacks any sort of punch and physicality when required to deliver press coverage (recorded ten reps in the 225-pound bench press drill). His leaping ability helps him get to most balls though and he always seems to get his hands on the pigskin, even when he isn’t in great position.
Jackson fails to sink his hips low enough or explode into his hits when asked to wrap and tackle in run support. Still, as a pass defender, his timing is impeccable, evident by his nation-leading 28 passes defended that included five interceptions in 2015.
Read more about the Bengals’ 2016 rookie class..