Jackson couldn't break into the Panthers' starting lineup and didn't intercept a pass in four seasons, but his electric 4.37-seconds clocking in the 40-yard dash and an 11-foot, 9-inch broad jump — nobody at the Scouting Combine has ever jumped even 11-6 — sent scouts scurrying to the film room.
The 6-foot Jackson is considered a sixth-round pick by NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas. Among his predraft visits was one to Green Bay, according to a source at the school.
"A lot of scouts asked me (why he didn't start more)," Jackson told PantherDigest.com's Tony Greco last month. "I just told them it's all about opportunity. I told them about West Virginia (the next-to-last game of his senior season), and how I had my first start and I led the team in tackles that game. That's where it goes. As soon as I got my shot to start, I took advantage of it. They were all impressed with my numbers out there."
Despite not being a regular starter, Jackson did see his playing time increase each year. After redshirting in his true freshman year of 2007, he played in five games in 2008, nine games in 2009, then all 13 in 2010. That's when his presence on special teams as a gunner on punt returns was key. Pitt's punt coverage team yielded just 5.1 yards a punt return.
Then came a new coaching staff, with a new chance to maybe fit in a different role. Jackson impressed the coaches enough to earn the Conway Award among all defensive players — given to the player who shows the most improvement during spring drills.
That led him to a position battle with Antwuan Reed for a starting spot at corner. Even though Jackson lost out on it, he served in some of Pitt's nickel and dime packages. Reed had had no interceptions, seven passes defensed and 30 tackles as the starter; Jackson had 34 tackles and four passes defensed in his part-time role.
Jackson expanded his special-teams role. While he averaged 23.6 yards with a 98-yard touchdown on kickoff returns, the Panthers yielded just 18.3 yards per kickoff return and 4.7 yards per punt return.
"Special teams, it doesn't matter; just give me an opportunity," Jackson said of the NFL. "I'll cover kickoffs, I'll block on returns, I'll return kicks. I showed them my versatility. I would love to go out there and be someone's gunner."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.