If not for injuries, former Alabama standout safety Eddie Jackson is almost 100 percent not sitting there at No. 112 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Jackson was one of the more underrated playmakers in the past few years for one of college football’s greatest dynasties in the Crimson Tide - a place that has turned into an NFL factory.
But with him available and biding his time at a selection on day three of the draft, the Chicago Bears knew there was no way they could potentially let the starting safety answer they’ve been looking for slip away. So the Bears traded up a few slots and for now will look to Jackson to develop and stabilize a safety position that has given the organization as much fits as quarterback in the modern era.
On that note, I talked with Jordan Fiegel of the Alabama SB Nation website Roll ‘Bama Roll, about what exactly Jackson will bring to the table for Chicago’s defense, whether his previous injuries should be of any concern, and how he may stick in the minds of players and fans alike in the end.
Fiegel also did an excellent breakdown on Jackson after he was selected by the Bears that fully details his entire skill set and background. It offers a unique perspective on the player Chicago is getting.
Here’s a draft profile on the Bears new safety in Jackson from the people that previously know him best.
1. How concerned should the Bears be about Jackson's two leg injuries in the last three years? Are there any lingering effects that affected his play? Is there an adjustment he needs to make stay healthy?
Jordan Fiegel: On the face of it, it does look bad. However, I don't particularly see him as injury-prone. The first injury was an ACL tear in April 2014; he was back on the field playing almost exactly five months later. He did struggle as a cornerback that year; but he had fully recovered by 2015. The fractured leg in 2016 came while going down awkwardly during a tackle on a punt return.
The biggest question will be how he looks coming back from that one. He's shown he can bounce back in the past, and, from the little we've seen of him since October, he does appear to be well along the path to returning. You can see him going through a few drills here.
2. What kinds of talents and instincts will Jackson bring to Chicago's defense? Why do you think the Bears zeroed in on him as a potential starter in their secondary?
Fiegel: What should excite Bears fans the most are Jackson’s ball-hawking skills and what he can do once he gets the ball in his hands. In about 22 and a half games of his Alabama career, he had seven interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns.
And those weren't short pick-sixes either. They were 50 yards, 55 yards, and 93 yards If the Bears need a safety who can be their center-fielder, Jackson certainly would fit the bill. Then, when Alabama started having Jackson field punt returns, he brought the same vision and dynamism there. In his first game as a returner in 2016, he took one all the way.
Jackson also brings the intangibles. He'll be a leader. He was the quarterback of the Crimson Tide secondary, helping with calls and getting other players in position. He'll be a great teammate, too. After he went down in 2016, you won't find him in any plays, of course; but he still made an impact. He was right there on the sidelines cheering his teammates on, getting in their ears, and helping however he could.
3. Do you think Jackson was a bit enhanced by Alabama's very talented front seven, which in turn overrates his skill set? Or is this a player who can thrive on his own in the NFL?
Fiegel: There's no doubt Jackson benefited from playing behind an incredibly talented front seven in college. He also played with Marlon Humphrey, a first-round draft pick this year, and several other defensive backs who'll find themselves playing on Sundays in the future. That talent gap between his team and his opponents won't be anywhere near as pronounced in the NFL, of course.
That said, I do think Jackson has the skills and talent to thrive on his own. You can't teach the vision and range he has or his football IQ.
4. Where do you think Jackson is a bit limited in that he needs to improve and refine to be a quality safety?
Fiegel: The first weakness that comes to mind is that Jackson isn't the most physical tackler. He'll bring guys down, but I do recall him giving up a few extra yards in the process. He also did miss some tackles. It's not rare, though not the norm, for him to take bad angles on the ballcarrier, too. For those reasons, I would not expect him to be a major factor in run support.
Also, Jackson can line up and play man coverage against receivers if asked; but I would like to see more physicality from him there as well.
5. Ultimately, how do you think Jackson projects in the NFL? What’s his ceiling?
Fiegel: Jackson has been one of my favorite Alabama players the past two years, so I fully admit I'm a little biased. However, I do think Jackson has a fairly high ceiling, especially if he can improve his tackling form. I don't know if he'll be an All-Pro or a perennial Pro Bowler, but I fully expect him to be a quality starting safety. His ability to return punts only enhances his value. Barring some major complication coming back from the recent fractured leg, I think Jackson in the fourth round is a steal.
6. Is there any special story in particular about Jackson at Alabama that people may not know about that you could share?
Fiegel: I mentioned it in my draft piece on Jackson, but everyone needs to read that article he wrote for The Players' Tribune.
Jackson went down midseason in 2016, but he was never far from the minds of the players or fans. "Ed-die" chants from fans broke out before and after the Peach Bowl against Washington in the College Football Playoff. His teammates were effusive in their love for him. He missed half the year but was still voted a permanent team captain after the regular season ended. A fellow defensive back described him as the heart of the team.
Y'all will love him.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.