The San Francisco 49ers have a need at cornerback and the combine’s top prospect is Iowa’s Josh Jackson. He had a very productive ballhawking junior season and declared for the draft, forgoing his senior year. While he is the top prospect, there are questions about his commitment in earlier seasons.
Current 49er and former Hawkeye teammate George Kittle mentioned that Jackson had a similar realization as he did, that he really wanted to play more and thus, made the commitment that led to his final year at Iowa. We know how Kittle’s rookie season turned out. Could there be another sort of break out performance in Jackon’s future?
Because Jackson has a background as a wide receiver he has ball catching skills which led to his eight interceptions in 2017. What he says he will have to do in the NFL is focus on not using his hands as much because of different rules and on his tackling ability. 49ers Ahkello Witherspoon had the same critiques coming out of college. Jackson won’t come cheap though. While Witherspoon turned out to be a value in the third round, Jackson is projected go on day one.
Here’s the full transcript from his interview:
What do you think you have to do in the 40 here and in the other drills?
Yes, sir. I’m looking to run a high 4.4 or a sub-4.5. I need a good run. All of the other drills, I’ll do well. I’m just looking to run a good time in the 40.
18 in the bench, is this a jump for you? Or have you been doing that the whole time?
I’ve always been strong in the upper body. Where I was training, I was getting 16, 17, 18. I expected to get 18 and was hoping to get into the 20s.
You were mainly a zone corner, does your bench show you can do press and nickel man?
Definitely. Being strong on bench definitely helps. Being able to get your hands on and reroute receivers, it’s always good to be strong.
How big of an adjustment is that going to be at the next level? You used your hands a lot in college, the NFL rules don’t allow that.
It’s just going to take a lot of repetition and practice, being able to move your feet a lot more efficiently, being able to use your hands more and respect the 5-yard rule.
How do you make that change?
It all starts with practice and even before practice. Just refine your technique and perfect your craft.
What’s the biggest thing you bring to the table for an NFL team?
I’m a leader, I’m a playmaker. I know when I step on the field, I’ll be able to make plays.
Looking at history, how surprised were you that they moved you to corner at Iowa?
I wasn’t too surprised. I came in as a corner. I came in expecting to play corner. In spring 2015, they had some injuries at wide receiver, so they needed me to go over and try to make the transition. Then, we had some more injuries at defensive back, so they moved me back. I think I fit in at corner and that it’s the best position for me.
Who was the toughest receiver you faced last year?
I’d probably say No. 8 from Nebraska. I think he was a good receiver. Physical.
What are you trying to get across to teams during your interviews this weekend?
I want to be able to show them I’m knowledgeable and that I know what I’m talking about in the film room. I have the athletic ability, but I want to show off that I’m smart on the football field as well.
Formal interview question
I’ve met with 14 teams the past two days. I have 12 tonight.
Ball skills are important for you. How have those developed and how have you worked on those since you came to Iowa?
Just always being outside catching the ball. Having an older brother and his friends, I’d always have a ball in my hand. Just feeling the ball, knowing what it feels like. Just coming to college, I wanted to have good hands.
When you made this decision, was there a point during the season you thought I think I have a chance, I should think about the next level. What made you decide to forgo your senior year?
I definitely wanted to wait until after the season. I wanted to respect my team and my teammates. After talking to coaches, and all of my teammates, they were very supportive of what I wanted to do and thought it was the best decision. I thought it was the best decision, so I wanted to forgo my senior season and take the opportunity for a shot at the league.
How close to graduating?
I have 12 more hours left. I would’ve finished this spring.
Josh, I don’t know how many corners have three picks against Ohio State and then the next week (at Wisconsin), you might’ve had a week that was even more impressive. What were those weeks like? How were you able to follow up?
Just getting back in the film room. I wanted to refocus, get back in the film room and prepare hard. Wisconsin was a really good team we played that week. I just tried to prepare the same way.
What kind of feedback are you getting from coaches and scouts in terms of feedback of what they want to see you improve on?
The criticism I’ve gotten, they want to see me become more hands on, use my hands more at the line of scrimmage and just work on my technique in that aspect.
Have you gotten question on the fact that you’re a one-year starter and how have you handled those?
I’ve had those questions. I told them I played behind some really good players. I played in the nickel my first two years as a freshman and sophomore. I had the opportunity this year and I just wanted to come out and show I’m ready to play and show we didn’t lose a step on the backend.
You were able to finish so many plays and catch the ball, what is it for you to be a finisher?
It started in practice, making sure I finished in practice. Come out to the game, I wanted to execute and take advantage of opportunities. It all falls back to practice and film prep.
Having only been a full-time starter one year, do you sense any NFL teams are holding that against you or questioning you because of that?
I would say maybe yes and no. Some teams might be hesitant, but I think it’s football. A lot of people can play, regardless of being a starter, three-year starter. If you can play ball, you can play ball.
What’s your mindset when you’re lined up against a top receiver, a top target?
You’ve got to be on your toes. You’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to be prepared, you’ve got to execute.
What do you tell yourself?
I really don’t tell myself anything. I just line up and try to do the best I can. Just focus.
Have you talked to the Bears at all?
Yeah, I did meet with them.
The draft is in your hometown of Dallas. What would it mean for you to go and possibly be drafted in the first round?
That would be awesome. All of my family is in Dallas and just to have the draft in my hometown is always special for me. And I want to be able to just enjoy the moment and embrace it.
Are you the best corner in this draft?
I believe so.
Why do you say that?
I’m a playmaker. Whatever team I go to they’re going to be able to rely on me to be accountable. I’m a playmaker.
What was it like to have five picks in two weeks?
I just wanted to show myself and show what I’m worth and prove myself each and every week. And those plays happened to come up and I just happened to execute.
Did it surprise you?
Just being around the ball, getting opportunities. It’s not only about getting opportunities but just being able to execute and get your hand on balls and being in the right place.
Do you think you have anything to prove here in the tests?
Yeah, I’d definitely like to run fast, run a good 40 time. And everything else I think is fine.
How instrumental was Phil Parker in developing you?
He did a fantastic job of developing me and all the other corners that came through. He’s a tough-minded coach. He’s going to push you each and every day. He’s never going to let you sit back and be complacent. That’s something that I took pride in, coming out every day and just trying to perfect my craft and be the best I could be.
Your impressions of playing against Josh Allen?
He’s a really good quarterback, really good strong arm. And I think he’ll be able to fit well with any team in the NFL.
How did you deal with going into your sophomore year slated to be the starter and Manny Rugamba beat you out?
You’ve just got to get back on the field and just keep working hard and just earn your spot. Nothing’s given. You’ve got to be able to earn it.
Who are the guys that could replace you at Iowa?
I think all of them have a chance. They’re all really good cornerbacks. And hopefully all of them can have great seasons next year. So I’m rooting for all of them and I think they’re all capable?
Who was the leader of the Iowa defense?
I’d say Josey Jewell. Three-, four-year starter. He really held the defense together. Him, all the other linebackers. D-linemen as well. And Miles Taylor, a three-year starter at safety.
Is there a game you put on tape besides the ones with multiple interceptions that really showed you at your best?
I think Minnesota.
What was it about that game?
It was just I think overall one of my best coverage games as far as sticking to man. And that’s my man-to-man, I think it was one of my best games.
Were you surprised as the year went on that teams still went at you?
I’m glad they did. I was just trying to come out and play the best ball I can. They were throwing it to me and I was just trying to be the best corner and make them pay.
What did you learn from Desmond King?
The way he prepared. The way he came out to practice. He was always a guy who was going to give it his all. He was a ballhawk and I loved the way he’d be able to guard receivers to be able to go take the ball from them. So that’s one thing I tried to implement in my game and just I have my own style, my own implement of a play and try to come out and just be the best that I could be.
What’s the biggest question you’re getting from NFL teams?
They want to see me just become a better man-to-man corner, get more hands-on and just improve my tackling.
Do teams ask about the Purdue game where you had to man up on that receiver after he scored a couple of touchdowns?
A little bit. They ask if I match up. And I told them I was able to go over and play a little bit of man, follow.
How much did your game against Ohio State propel you?
I definitely think it helped put me on the map a little bit and get people around the country to know who I am. So I think it was a good momentum boost for me.
You have a low-key personality. How have teams responded to that?
I really don’t get nervous, but they’ve been cool with it. I’m just being myself.
Have you got any strange questions?
If you run a 40 above 4.5, will that hurt your draft stock?
I’m aiming for 4.4s, so I hope not to run a 4.5. But either way it is what it is. I’m going to try my hardest to run a 4.4.
Do you think your 40 time is make or break?
No, I wouldn’t look at it that way. That’s why I’m working hard for this. I want to be able to come out and just run fast.
How important is it for you to be drafted in the first round?
Just whatever team decides to take me, I’d like to just go and give my best.