Josh Jackson: from Obscurity to Stardom

Story by Levi Thompson

Iowa City – At one point in his Hawkeye career, Josh Jackson was moved from defensive back to wide receiver. Coming into 2017, he had 18 career tackles. So, for someone to assume before the 2017 season that Jackson would not only be Iowa’s best defensive back, one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten, and a potential first-round NFL draft choice, would have seemed blasphemous.

Iowa defensive back Josh Jackson breaks up a pass intended for North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

And yet, all those things have come true as Jackson and the Hawkeyes enter a massive Week 10 match-up against Ohio State. This week, Jackson was listed as a project first-round pick by Pro Football Focus – they project him 24th overall to the Atlanta Falcons. He was recently named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given annually to the best defensive player in college football. And he had one career start at cornerback heading into the 2017 season.

It was widely believed that sophomore Manny Rugamba, coming off a breakout freshman season in 2016, would be the standout cornerback for Iowa this season. An early season suspension thrust Jackson into action, and he has responded admirably. Jackson does not have the flashy interception stats that former decorated Iowa corner and current San Diego Charger Desmond King did when he was a Hawkeye – instead, he has made an impact as one of the best in coverage in the Big Ten and even the nation (his 14 pass breakups lead the FBS).

Jackson’s quiet demeanor off the field – he is generally more reserved in interviews, and was quiet to lines of questioning this past week regarding his NFL Draft stock – reflects in his game. Jackson lacks the flashy qualities of some top corners – he is not a big hitter, he does not have great hands, and he does not rack up interceptions. All of these are reasons as to why Jackson is getting overlooked by both college football fans and some NFL Draft analysts.

This weekend against the #3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at home at Kinnick Stadium is a prime opportunity for Jackson to prove himself against one of the best offenses in the country. Ohio State’s offense is not only filled with major NFL Draft prospects, but quarterback J.T. Barrett is back in the Heisman conversation after a huge win last weekend against Penn State and is the definition of a fantastic college football player. Jackson has leap-frogged Rugamba (who has had a fine season in his own right) for the right to guard the best receiver on the opposing team – this week, he’ll likely guard sophomore K.J. Hill – and yet, teams continue to throw towards him. Opposing quarterbacks have a 52.9 passer rating when targeting a receiver covered by Jackson, per Pro Football Focus. J.T. Barrett and his strong arm will be the next to have to work against the ball-hawking Jackson all game.

Josh Jackson is probably not the next Richard Sherman, or even the next Desmond King, but for a guy with minimal experience and no expectations heading into 2017, it’s hard to be disappointed with his performance. No one expected this young man to play his way onto NFL draft boards, and that is exactly what he has done.

Hawkeye Heaven

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