The Chicago Bears had a number of holes to fill on defense heading into the 2017 NFL Draft but, surprisingly, GM Ryan Pace selected offensive players with four of his five picks.
The sole defender was former Alabama S Eddie Jackson in the fourth round.
To get a better feel for what he brings to the table, I broke down film from four of Jackson's collegiate contests. Here's what I found.
-0:25 – Man coverage up front, Jackson playing centerfield against a four-receiver set. Slot receiver freezes Jackson, allowing the boundary WR to get behind him. Cornerback has to commit an interference penalty to avoid the big completion.
-1:05 – Pass deep down the left sideline. Jackson breaks early and takes a good angle. If the pass had been underthrown at all, he would have been in position to make a play on the ball.
-1:37 – Corner sideline route to the deep left. Jackson lets the receiver get behind him but, luckily for him, the pass is overthrown.
-2:03 – Jackson is in man coverage against the slot receiver. He quickly turns his hips and is able to mirror the pass catcher on a deep out route. Jackson is then able to get his hand in front of the receiver and disrupt the pass.
-2:15 – Run up the middle, Jackson closes on the hole but then watches the running back go right past him without ever making a tackle attempt. He does show good speed in chasing the ball carrier down from behind but that comes 35 yards past Jackson’s first opportunity to make the tackle.
-2:36 – Jackson closes on the sweep and makes a solid tackle on the ball carrier for no gain.
Vs. Texas A&M
-0:16 – Punt return. Short punt, Jackson fields it on the roll, breaks a tackle and makes two more defenders miss before being knocked out of bounds. Great open-field elusiveness.
-0:33 – Jackson fills the hole at the second level, which is admirable, but he’s run over, allowing the running back an extra five yards and a first down. Yikes.
-2:01 – Jackson floats into the box pre-snap but loses sight of the quarterback, who runs around the left end for a big gain.
-2:30 – Run up the middle. Jackson approaches the line of scrimmage and sees the run inside of him, yet he never crashes inside. Instead, he slowly saunters toward the play and then watches the running back go by him, again. All he had to do was attack the ball carrier, at any point in this play, and he could have stopped the Aggies from picking up the first down.
-2:38 – Punt return. Jackson is decisive after the catch and peels around the far corner for a nice gain but he breaks his leg at the conclusion of the play, ending his collegiate career.
-0:00 – Jackson lines up in the box just inside the left hash. The pitch play comes his way and he approaches the line of scrimmage, yet as the tight end closes on him, Jackson turns his body, as if he wants no part of the contact. The tight end then manhandles him 10 yards up the field.
-0:34 – Deep pass to Jackson’s zone. He’s there but he doesn’t close and make a play on the ball. The 40-yard pass is complete.
-2:23 – Same pass down the right sideline. Jackson takes a deep angle and is nowhere close to the receiver as he goes up for the back-shoulder catch, which is dropped.
-0:00 – Jackson is lined up deep half. RB turns the corner and Jackson closes and hits him, taking him down almost immediately. Solid close and finish.
-0:28 – Punt return, fielded near the sideline. Jackson turns and runs backward a few yards, breaking a tackle in the process, before turning upfield. He then breaks another tackle before going down after a 12-yard return.
-3:54 – Punt return. Jackson fields it at the 22 and breaks an immediate arm tackle. He then puts on the breaks and two defenders fly right past him. Jackson turns up the field, breaks a tackle attempt from the punter, keeps his balance along the sideline and races in for the 88-yard TD. Very impressive.
As a defender, Jackson has potential as a deep free safety. He has the easy speed to cover sideline to sideline and he's aggressive when he has an opportunity to make a play on the ball. He'll need to improve his awareness in Cover 1 but his acceleration and ball skills will help him have success as a centerfielder.
Jackson will be an immediate boost on special teams, as he's an electrifying punt returner. He has sure hands and he's very elusive in the open field. He'll break through arm tackles and make you pay if you give him a crease.
Whether as a defender following an interception or as a punt returner, Jackson is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. That's exciting for a Bears team that has lacked explosiveness in the return game for years.
The biggest concern with Jackson is his clear disdain for contact. He seems to always find a way to get blocked and there are times where it appears he goes out of his way to avoid making the tackle. Watching him turn his back to an oncoming block is hard to stomach.
For Chicago's coaching staff, the key will be instilling some toughness in Jackson as a defender. He must become a more dependable tackler to be an every-down player at the next level, which could take some time.
Still, due to his range, there's a good chance Jackson could earn the starting free safety position if he excels in training camp and the preseason, assuming he's healthy. His lack of physicality could be a road block, though, which means he might be relegated to punt-return-only duties as a rookie, where he'll have in immediate and substantial impact.