When the standout cornerback declared for the NFL draft following the Crimson Tide's national championship season, Saban said Jackson was making a mistake and could have used another year of grooming. The NFL's draft advisory committee gave Jackson a second-round grade. But the 40-game starter won over Saban — and began rising up draft boards — after running his 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds at the Scouting Combine in February.
Now, he's a possibility to go to the Packers with the 23rd pick of the first round.
"It's a dream of mine," Jackson told Packer Report.
Jackson didn't even play defense until college. At Westside High School in his home of Macon, Ga., Jackson rushed for almost 3,500 yards with 46 touchdowns in three seasons.
Vanderbilt was among the teams recruiting him but, even with a solid grade point average, his SAT wasn't good enough to get into Vandy or most other schools. Vanderbilt sent Jackson to Fork Union Military Academy and asked him to shift to cornerback while working on his scores.
He bristled at first, but not for long.
"Just from watching college football, those running backs take a beating. I wouldn't mind dishing out that punishment instead of taking it," he said.
Meanwhile, Jackson made a visit to Alabama and decided to enroll there instead of Vanderbilt. That decision couldn't have worked out better. Paired with the Tide's new coach, Saban, Jackson blossomed. Saban is renowned as a defensive backs coach and runs an NFL-style defense, which he learned under Bill Belichick at Cleveland in the early 1990s. Jackson's success in Saban's 3-4 scheme no doubt adds to the intrigue for the Packers and other teams.
"It's helped me out a whole lot," Jackson said. "A lot of the things that I'll be doing with whatever team I'll be with will, for the most part, be the same, just different terminology, as I did in college. I won't have to learn as much. That will give me the upper hand on some of the other players."
Jackson said teams like his size, penchant for playing press coverage and his ball skills. He picked off five passes with 29 passes defensed in his three seasons. He stands 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches. Considering the Packers have drafted only two cornerbacks shorter than 6 foot since the Ron Wolf/Mike Sherman/Ted Thompson era began, Jackson might be deemed too short.
Jackson didn't return kicks at Alabama — that was the gig of record-setting cornerback Javier Arenas — but he's told teams that he's ready, willing and able to return punts and kickoffs, like he did in high school.
An admirer of Charles Woodson — "I just like his style of play. He's physical and he's fast" — Jackson could be an option for the Packers at No. 23. And with this being a deep draft class with little consensus beyond Florida's Joe Haden topping the list, Jackson also could be an option for the Packers in the second round.
"Growing up and watching college football, being able to win the national championship was a dream come true and now having a chance to be drafted and play in the NFL is a dream," Jackson said. "I'm just enjoying it. Once I get that phone call, who knows what I might do. I might cry like a baby or something. We'll see."
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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.