Two days ago, the Cincinnati Bengals officially made running back Cedric Peerman their player on injured reserve to receive the return designation after he began to practice again with the team, which opens a 21-day window, at the end of which point the team must either activate him to the 53-man roster or leave him on injured reserve.
But there is a notable repercussion of this decision, because the Bengals had another notable player currently sitting on injured reserve, and that is rookie first-round cornerback William Jackson III, the player that Cincinnati selected one pick ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom they reported would have drafted had he been on the board. Instead, they settled for Artie Burns, who entered the starting lineup four games ago and has two interceptions.
While older than the usual rookie, Jackson was an intriguing cornerback prospect coming out of college, with all the size, speed, and measurables that you would look for out of the position. He was also viewed as comparatively ready to contribute at an early stage, which it would not surprise me to learn was a key aspect of the Steelers’ own interest in him.
But the rookie suffered a torn pectoral muscle for the Bengals early in training camp, and was never even able to participate with the team in a preseason game. The Steelers, of course, can relate with the situation of being unable to get a high cornerback prospect into a game, since they have yet to see their 2015 second-rounder even see a preseason field through two seasons.
During his final collegiate season, Jackson intercepted five passes, but he also recorded 23 pass breakups, which was the most in his school’s history. His total 28 passes defensed was more than any other player in the nation.
The Bengals didn’t even necessarily need a cornerback like Jackson. They were looking at a wide receiver in the first round, but they saw three wide receivers in a row go off the board right in front of them. They considered Jackson the value pick, and they value perimeter players more than the interior with high draft picks.
Cincinnati currently fields a roster with three first-round cornerbacks, including starters Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, as well as Darqueze Dennard, who is beginning to play an increased role as he overcomes an injury from earlier in the season.
It is unclear as to just how Jackson would have even fit into the Bengals’ defensive game plan during his rookie season, given that they had no immediate hole in the secondary that needed addressing, but he could certainly make a major leap up the depth chart heading into his second season.
There is no doubt that the career paths of Jackson and Burns will be compared and contrasted over the years, especially on the Steelers’ side—or, the Steelers fans’ side, to be more specific. At the very least, however, we will know that Burns got a head start.