The Buffalo Bills have a dire need for a safety, with the questionable situations that Aaron Williams and Corey Graham are sitting in. Could they find a starter on the second day of the draft? As always, the Alabama Crimson Tide may have an answer for them.
Eddie Jackson was a star on both sides of the ball growing up in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Playing wide receiver and cornerback, he had a 21 yards-per-catch average on offense and five interceptions on defense as a senior. Ranked as a four star ATH prospect, he committed to Alabama.
Jackson began his college career as a cornerback. As a true freshman, he started four games, collected 19 tackles and an interception. He tore his ACL before his sophomore season, but remarkably came back in seven months to start ten games, recording 44 tackles, a sack, and an interception.
Converting to safety for his junior season, Jackson had a breakout year. He intercepted six passes and returned two for touchdowns, and was named the defensive MVP of the 2016 National Championship.
He had a strong start to his senior season, intercepting one pass for a touchdown and nabbing two punt return touchdowns. But a leg fracture against Texas A&M prematurely ended his season.
Jackson has been a leader in Alabama’s secondary, even after breaking his leg. For the rest of the year, he coached from the sidelines, and his dedication to his teammates is clearly visible in this heartfelt open letter on The Player’s Tribune.
To a certain extent, Jackson’s athletic ability will depend on how cleanly his fractured leg recovers. Safeties and cornerbacks are extremely dependent on their speed, and moving from a 4.4 to a 4.6 would be a significant loss for Jackson.
Before his injury (and even after a repaired ACL), Jackson looked like one of the rangiest safeties in this draft. He was often used as a single-high safety in ‘Bama’s defense, and he can cover from sideline to sideline. He also flashed some great agility as a punt returner in his senior season.
Standing six feet tall and weighing 195 pounds, Jackson has the size to play safety or move back to cornerback if his team wishes.
As a run defender, Jackson does a good job giving effort and coming downhill to make tackles. He has a tendency to overrun the play, but at least he has the speed to catch up after missing the runner the first time. His tackling form is solid, and he can deliver big hits when appropriate.
On the field, Jackson was rangy enough to be relied upon as a single-high safety for Alabama, but he didn’t have the best combination of speed and instincts to be a capital-G-great player in that role, often being late to arrive at deep passes down the sideline. Jackson saw more success as a defender in the deep middle in cover-3 looks, trolling for errant throws between the hashes.
Jackson is a natural returner with good hands and agile moves. It serves him well on interceptions and punts. He can turn his head to find the ball and swat at it, and he does a good job catching with his hands.
Before his injury, Jackson looked like the type of safety prospect that was a lock for the second round and had a shot at a first round pick. He can be an impact free safety that isn’t a liability against the run. He’s an intelligent player who made on-field adjustments for his secondary, and was a defensive captain for Alabama. That said, his stock for the NFL draft will depend heavily on how effectively he recovers from that surgery. Jackson looks like the type of player who could be elected to a few Pro Bowls and get a hefty contract, if he plays in the right defense. Dashon Goldson’s career arc, perhaps?