At the franchise tag deadline, we explored why the Patriots let J.C. Jackson walk into the open market. This week on The 33rd Team’s Wednesday Huddle, Coach Brian Stewart and former first-round pick Kyle Wilson went in-depth to analyze everything Jackson brings to Brandon Staley’s Chargers defense.
Since J.C. Jackson entered the league in 2018, no defensive back has been more productive. He leads the NFL in interceptions with 25 and is tied for second in pass breakups with 53. Putting the top players in production on a graph gives us more insight. Jackson amassed this production despite being the only player in this group to play less than 3,000 snaps.
Playing Man Coverage With Split Vision
While this production is impressive, what separates J.C. Jackson from the pack is the man scheme he produced in. Only two players have double-digit interceptions in man coverage since 2018: J.C. Jackson and Xavien Howard. 76% of J.C.’s interceptions have come in either Cover-0, Cover-1, or 2-Man. 65% of Howard’s have come in these man coverages. When your eyes are keyed to the WR, instead of the QB like in zone coverage, it’s challenging to turn targets into turnovers.
This rare ability to create turnovers in a heavy man scheme should be attributed to J.C. Jackson’s split vision. Coach Brian Stewart describes split vision as “the ability to play man coverage while still seeing the ball being thrown.”
Jackson starts with his press technique, where he works his feet to stay on the top shoulder of receivers. Down the field, he remains in phase; instead of staying on the receiver’s hip to play through their hands, he works to play on top shoulder, working his peripheral to see both the WR and the QB. This clip against Stefon Diggs in Week 8 of the 2020 season is a prime example of his split vision in action.
Where J.C. Fits Within the Chargers’ Defense
Head coach Brandon Staley seems to have dedicated this offseason to building his defense with multiple playmakers. With Derwin James as their centerpiece, the additions of Jackson and Khalil Mack, along with significant but lower-profile signings like that of Bryce Callahan and Kyle Van Noy are bound to catalyze improvement to the Charger’s 30th ranked defense in 2021.
Jackson will provide flexibility to a cornerback room that remained stagnant in terms of alignment and matchups last season. The Chargers split their cornerbacks by field and boundary players. Staley used Asante Samuel Jr.’s polished off-man technique, above-the-line route recognition, and playmaking ability to produce at field cornerback. Michael Davis was deployed in the boundary, where his length, physicality, and speed made him their best option last season.
Their alignment splits are represented below. Samuel Jr. aligned to the field on 97% of his snaps when the ball was to the right hash. Davis aligned in the boundary 99% of his snaps. Staley will have options week to week now that Jackson has joined the secondary. In New England, he aligned to the boundary on 65% of his snaps. Jackson excelled in the boundary, field, and slot depending on his weekly assignment.
Coach Chuck Pagano believes that, “Having J.C. and Asante Samuel Jr. on the rise gives them the ability to play more middle field close single high safety and more matchups. They’ll be able to break some tendencies from that Vic Fangio two high shell system Brandon Staley comes from.”
If Staley wants to deploy Jackson as his boundary corner, Jackson will do this at a high level. Jackson has been used to match up against opposing teams’ WR1 in the past as well. Looking within the division, Jackson could be used to follow Davante Adams in their matchups against the Raiders. Against the Broncos, a team with multiple outside threats, Jackson’s best use may be in the boundary to take away easy access throws.
Having Jackson, Samuel Jr., Davis, and recently signed Bryce Callahan also means potential for considerable improvement on 3rd down. Last season Staley went to his Dime, six DB, package on 35% of 3rd down snaps. This offseason, the Chargers prioritized having four high upside playmakers for these high leverage situations.
J.C. Jackson gives the Chargers a true matchup corner with rare ball skills. Along with the increase in turnovers he’s bound to spur, he’ll enable competent man coverage on 3rd down, an area where the Chargers struggled last season. Lastly, Jackson’s playoff experience and championship pedigree could propel the 2022 Chargers to take the leap many expect them to make.