Patriots: How the emergence of JC Jackson let Stephon Gilmore shine

Patriots cornerback JC Jackson is overlooked in a secondary led by Stephon Gilmore.

JC Jackson and Stephon Gilmore are one of the top cornerback duos in the NFL today. While Gilmore had lofty expectations of out college, Jackson did not, though the latter has been responsible for a lot of the secondary’s success.

Undrafted out of Maryland in 2018, Jackson’s college career was tumultuous. He began at Florida, but off-the-field issues resulted in his dismissal. He rose through the JUCO ranks before landing with the Terps.

Then came the Patriots, who saw a ton of natural talent in the young stud and figured they could fix the character concerns by signing him as a UDFA. That’s what Bill Belichick does after all, right?

Immediately, that gamble proved to pay off when Jackson had a tremendous training camp as a rookie. Early that year, he intercepted then-Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill. By the middle of the season, he found himself starting opposite Gilmore.

In 2019 he retained his starting job and had five interceptions over the course of the season. He even made his presence felt on special teams, blocking a key punt against Buffalo. Despite this success, the casual fan could be excused for forgetting about Jackson because of how dominant Gilmore, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has been.

Swiping Gilmore from Buffalo may be the cruelest thing the Patriots have done to the Bills in the Bill Belichick era. The lockdown corner is dominant in man-to-man and covers massive amounts of space in zone schemes. Often times, elite corners don’t have the stats to back up their talent because the ball never goes to their side.

Richard Sherman, at his best, complained the game was boring because of this. Despite that reality, Gilmore led the league with six interceptions in 2019. His side of the field is virtually impenetrable and he’s been All-Pro for the past two seasons to prove it.

So why is it that quarterbacks make the mistake of throwing at Gilmore? They often don’t have another option.

Gilmore cuts the field in half. Unfortunately for opposing quarterbacks, due to Jackson’s emergence, this gives them very few options, because Jackson locks down his half, too. Sure, there was the occasional running back beating a linebacker or a slot receiver sneaking into the middle of the field, but teams’ primary receivers were hardly ever making a significant impact vs the Pats defense because of Gilmore and Jackson.

Jackson’s ability to lock down receivers has allowed Gilmore to properly shine as the NFL’s best corner. QBs can’t hide from him and pick on another lowly DB. Jackson doesn’t allow it.

The shame of it is that Gilmore’s dominance has overshadowed Jackson’s emergence. The casual fan doesn’t know much about him, and that’s something that should change in 2020.

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