In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears were looking for a safety. Many analysts thought they would go for Jamal Adams, who ended up going sixth overall to the New York Jets. Instead, the Bears took quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. They waited until the fourth round, where they picked Eddie Jackson out of Alabama, to upgrade at the safety position.
Over the two seasons since that draft, Jamal Adams has emerged as an elite safety. He wouldn’t have been a bad pick for Chicago, and it certainly wasn’t bad for New York. However, the Bears definitely don’t regret their decision. Instead of getting a top-3 safety in the first round, the Bears got their franchise quarterback. They were able to get the NFL’s premier safety in the fourth round. Calling it a steal would be an understatement.
In his second season, Eddie Jackson has propelled himself into the discussion for the best defensive player in the NFL — rarefied territory for a defensive back.
Jackson’s strength has undoubtedly been in pass coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson’s coverage grade is a 94.7, the highest grade for any defender this year. It’s also tied for the highest grade ever recorded by a safety. In 44 targets, Jackson has allowed just 24 receptions for 256 yards, three touchdowns, and six interceptions. He’s got his hands on 31.8% of the passes that have been thrown at him in single coverage. For perspective, that’s the third highest clip for a safety in the PFF era (since 2006). While Jackson doesn’t have the pass rushing ability of safeties like Derwin James and Jamal Adams, it would be a waste of his talent to have him do anything but play behind and cover.
You don’t just need to look at Pro Football Focus’ advanced grading to see Jackson’s prowess. His basic box score stats this year also match up with the best seasons of the greatest safeties of recent memory.
|Games Played||Interceptions||Defensive Touchdowns||Passes Defended|
|Earl Thomas III||16||5||0||9|
Without looking at the discrepancy in games played, Jackson’s 2018 season is up there with the best seasons that these great safeties personally had. Once you factor in that Jackson played two fewer games than them, it really becomes impressive. He realistically could have hit 19-20 passes defended and 8-9 interceptions if not for an ankle injury. Regardless, Jackson will certainly be rewarded with a First-Team All-Pro appearance.
The Bears defense has been the best in the league with the legendary performance of Jackson and the acquisition of Khalil Mack. The unit has continued to play well in the absence of Jackson. Still, missing a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at safety is still certainly a negative for them. The Chicago Bears will be hoping that he will be healthy in time for their Wild-Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has been hot recently, and everybody knows about his ability to step up his game in the playoffs. Jackson playing at free safety will present a monumental challenge for Foles and the Eagles’ offense.