The Cincinnati Bengals used a first-round draft pick in 2016 to select cornerback William Jackson III, yet he hasn’t entered the starting lineup full-time during his first two seasons. He spent his rookie season on the shelf, actually, after suffering a season-ending injury in the offseason, and he had to earn his role last year.
With Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, as well as Darqueze Dennard, already in place at cornerback—all former first-round picks, two by the Bengals—it took Jackson a while to work out a role, and it took injuries to create that opportunity. But Jones has since been released, which will shift the third-year player into the starting lineup.
And he is ready for it, looking to make a name for himself. “I feel like I did good last year”, he said, “but obviously I wasn’t a starter. A lot of people around the world don’t actually know about me over here. They’ll definitely know about me this year”.
Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly know him, and for multiple reasons. He was supposedly the team’s target in the first round that year before the Bengals drafted him one spot ahead of them. They ended up drafting fellow cornerback Artie Burns instead, who has been in the starting lineup for most of his career.
But he also drew Steeler Nation’s attention for his work in coverage against Antonio Brown over the course of two games during the regular season in 2017. Brown was targeted eight times last season with Jackson in coverage and did not catch a single pass. The cornerback was credited with four passes defensed.
He logged about 60 percent of the Bengals’ defensive snaps a year ago, and he recorded 27 tackles with one sack and one interception with 14 passes defensed in 15 games. He returned that interception 75 yards for a touchdown.
Many Steelers fans will be tracking the career trajectories of Jackson and Burns going forward—particularly those with a negative opinion of Pittsburgh’s choice. Burns started all 16 games a year ago, recording 54 tackles with one interception and 13 passes defensed. He has four interceptions to date during his career.
As for Jackson, if he can continue to play as he did in his first healthy season a year ago, then he may emerge as one of the league’s top young cornerbacks in short order. Though young may be stretching it; he will be turning 26 already in October. He was 23 when he was drafted. Burns was 20, and just turned 23 a month ago.