When the New Orleans Saints selected CB Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State with their top pick in last year's 2017 NFL Draft, the main reason behind their selection was to not only improve the Saints' struggling pass defense from the previous 2016 season, but also to give the franchise an elite-caliber CB capable of "locking down" one side of the entire football field.
All Lattimore ended up doing was to lead the team in interceptions (5) and passes defensed (18). He missed three games, but finished with the 7th-highest defensive snaps (754), all helping him earn the NFL's Rookie of the Month award twice and a selection to the Pro Bowl. He was eventually was named 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Now almost exactly one year later, the Saints find themselves getting ready for the 2018 NFL Draft, which gets underway exactly one week from tonight; and while getting another CB of Lattimore's caliber isn't necessarily considered a priority, it certainly doesn't mean that they won't consider taking one anyway, for depth purposes.
What if the Saints could have not one but TWO CB's with "lock down" capabilities?
Drafting another cornerback with their first selection would be more of a luxury pick rather than a pick of "need" for the Saints, to be sure.
But it would undoubtedly also make the Saints pass defense damn near IMPENETRABLE — and give New Orleans one of the most talented defensive secondaries in the entire NFL.
Saints fans, meet the young man who some have even compared to Lattimore himself; and who likely will still be available when the Saints pick at #27 overall: University of Iowa CB Josh Jackson.
As noted by CBS Sports.com: as a three-sport athlete hailing from Lake Dallas, Texas, Jackson saw limited action in his first two seasons after redshirting in 2014, breaking up six passes while playing in 26 games, making one start.
That start came as a redshirt sophomore in the Outback Bowl, where he had three solo tackles against Florida, including one for loss.
But it wasn't until last year during the 2017 regular season, when Jackson put himself into the conversation as one of college football's truly elite CB's.
Jackson "broke out as a redshirt junior in 2017, racking up 18 passes defended while leading the nation with eight interceptions, returning two for "Pick 6" touchdowns — both in the same game against Wisconsin. He also had an impressive 27 PBU's ("pass break-ups") as well.
And though he seriously considered returning for a senior season later on this year, he ultimately declared for the 2018 NFL Draft in early January.
The biggest issue for Jackson at the next level will be that he's actually still learning HOW to play the position.
Jackson originally began his career as a wide receiver, and only started a total of 14 games for the Hawkeyes.
NFL.com Media / Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah says that Jackson has good size for the position, and has the versatility to play both inside at the "slot" CB position as well as the outside boundary position.
Jeremiah observes that Jackson was deployed in a variety of coverages in Iowa's scheme, and was effective in all of them. In press coverage, he isn't physical, but he's very fluid to open up and "mirror" (as in, closely guard) an opposing wide receiver.
Simply put: Jackson is a "ball hawk"— and he has elite-caliber ball skills that allow him to be a big-time play-maker.
However, one major concern some scouts have is that Jackson isn't the fastest of CB's.
Jackson certainly has 1st-round size (6-foot-1, 196 pounds with 31⅛-inch arms) and has the leverage to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage; meaning that strength and size are not Jackson’s issue. But he only ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine last month, raising concerns that he could struggle against much faster WR's at the NFL level.
Jeremiah says that while the speed concerns are legitimate, Jackson wasn't ever really "tested" or challenged by a notably faster WR last season, so it's hard to tell (at least at this point) if that is really something that teams should be worried about,
Jeremiah notes that Jackson excels in zone coverage, where he sees through the wideout to the quarterback. He's quick to identify routes, break on the ball and finish. He also adds that Jackson has rare ball skills, which creates some spectacular picks.
Additionally, Jackson is an effective wrap-up tackler in the run game. Overall, Jackson might lack ideal twitch and deep speed, but his rare combination of size and ball skills are outstanding.
Bottom line: Jeremiah believes that Jackson will be a "plug-and-play" starter as a rookie — just as Marshon Lattimore was for the Saints defense in 2017.
Clearly, the Saints appear to be "set" at the CB position.
They signed Philadelphia Eagles CB Patrick Robinson to a 4-year deal at the very beginning of 2018 NFL Free Agency last month, and they also have returning young starters like Lattimore and current #2 CB Ken Crawley on the roster.
As the old saying goes: "you can’t have enough or too many" good cornerbacks together on one team, though.