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Saturday Spotlight: Eddie Jackson

Throughout the 2020 NFL season, Jack R Salo will spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at 4th-year safety Eddie Jackson.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Name: Eddie Jackson

Position: Safety

Nickname: Bo Jack

Number: 39

Age: 26

Time with Bears: 3 seasons

The Past:

April 29th, 2017. NFL Draft, fourth round. Bears GM Ryan Pace sits with pick #117. The current pick: #111.

“With the 111th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks select...Tedric Thompson. Safety. Colorado. The Los Angeles Rams are now on the clock.”

Pace needs a safety in this draft. He missed out on Jamal Adams while chasing a franchise quarterback by trading up for Mitchell Trubisky in the first round. In the second round, he addressed a need for a tight end by drafting Adam Shaheen, a young man described as “Baby-Gronk” by NFL scouts. The aforementioned trade for his “franchise quarterback” cost him his third round pick, and now he smells a run on safeties.

There has been a trade.

“With the 112th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select...Eddie Jackson. Safety. Alabama.”

NFL: MAR 05 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jackson was a dark horse safety in that draft. While he excelled in the four years he played at Alabama, his senior season was cut short after he broke his leg. He also tore his ACL in 2014. That injury history bumped him to the third day of the NFL draft, a player who Alabama head coach Nick Saban called “an All-American player.”

The Bears were coming off a 3-13 season in which nothing seemed to go right on either side of the ball. After waiving Harold Jones-Quartey, who was the starting safety the year previous, Jackson began his rookie year in the fire. Opposite Adrian Amos in the defensive outfield, and with Kyle Fuller available to lockdown the opposing team’s best receiver, Jackson’s skills translated to the NFL as well as any Bears fan could have reasonably hoped for.

Eddie Jackson, known as “BoJack” by teammates, finished the 2017 season with 73 total tackles between combined and assisted, starting all 16 games, according to Pro Football Reference. His highlight game from 2017 came in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers. Six minutes into the first quarter, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton attempted an ill-advised pitch on a double-option play, which rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel failed to corral. After bouncing around a bit, as a spheroid-shaped object tends to do, the ball was scooped up by Jackson and ran 76 yards back for a score. In the second quarter, he was able to capitalize on another Newton error, after the Panthers QB threw to receiver Kelvin Benjamin with Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara literally two steps ahead. A tipped ball that the cameraman nearly lost landed cleanly in Jackson’s arms in mid-sprint, and a shuffle move to avoid Cam Newton secured another touchdown for the young rookie sensation. In a game which ended 17-3, these two touchdowns were the difference in the scoreboard.

NFL: NOV 18 Vikings at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bears began the 2018 season retaining 8 out of 11 starters on defense, with a massive upgrade to the linebacker position with All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack and 8th overall draft pick Roquan Smith newly in the fold. Amukumara, Amos, Fuller, and Jackson entered their second year together as a unit, and quickly established themselves as one of the elite defensive backfields in the NFL. As a unit they allowed the 7th-lowest passing yards that year, and Jackson himself played like a man possessed. Six interceptions, with 2 brought back for touchdowns, and 2 forced fumbles, with 1 scooped up for a score. He had 51 total tackles for a safety on a defense allowing 5.3 net yards per attempt. Jackson rightfully earned an All-Pro nomination for the year.

Jackson’s highlight game of the 2018 season came against the Detroit Lions. With starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky sidelined with a shoulder injury, the Bears trotted journeyman Chase Daniel out to lead the offense. Daniel played serviceable in relief, but with 6 minutes left in the game the score was tied at 16 apiece and the Lions had the ball. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a designed pass to the flat, which Jackson sniffed out from the snap. Jackson picked it off without a single baby blue jersey in front of him and already at full sprint, making the touchdown a guarantee the second he caught it. This was the sophomore safety’s second pick in two weeks, and he was named NFC defensive POTW honors for his performance. He called it “big” but yet remained focused on making playoffs, a goal the Bears checked off by winning the division.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The start of 2019 saw Jackson’s counterpart at safety, Adrian Amos sign with the division rival Green Bay Packers. To fill the void, the Bears signed veteran safety Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, a player who shared time with Jackson at Alabama and played primarily at the free safety position. Jackson, typically lined up at free safety himself, switched roles to accommodate his old friend. While Jackson’s solo tackles increased from 41 to 51, and his tackles for loss found a career-best at 5 on the year, the third-year pro struggled to maintain his status as one of the premier ball-hawking safeties in the league.

Jackson didn’t intercept a ball in the entire first half of the season, and finished the year with only two. He recovered one fumble and struggled the entire year to jump routes the way he had done through his first two years in the league. Partly due to the positional focus shift, and partly due to opposing quarterbacks intentionally throwing away from his area of the field. While 2019 may have been a down year compared to Jackson’s first two, he made the Pro Bowl, and his entire body of work speaks to a player who is on top of the world.

The Present:

This past offseason, the Bears made the correct move in signing Jackson to a second contract, locking him up until 2025 and making him the highest paid safety in league history at the time of signing (The Cardinals have since signed Budda Baker to a contract worth more). Clinton-Dix departed in free agency, signing with the Dallas Cowboys (he has since been released) and the Bears picked up veteran safety Tashaun Gipson to fill the role Adrian Amos left behind. This move should bring Eddie Jackson back to the free safety spot where he had so much success in his first two years, and opposing quarterbacks will do well to remember that they’re up against one of the best. For Bears fans, though, it’d be nice if the league forgot, so Jackson can remind them.

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The future:

The Bears begin their 2020 season against a familiar foe, the division rival Detroit Lions. The training camp rhetoric has been overtaken as the competition for the starting quarterback spot and the revamped tight end group take center stage. This could play into the Bears hands for reasons you might not expect. If the Lions are so focused on how they plan to attack the Bears offense, this defense could come out and put the rest of the league on notice. For Jackson, entering his 4th season and with the 2nd-highest average salary on the team(per spotrac) a reasonable expectation would be for him to come out swinging and earn his money. We’ll see if Stafford has learned his lesson.

Jack’s Week 1 prediction:

7 total tackles, 2 pass breakups, 1 sack, 0 INT (yet)