The Pittsburgh Steelers were busy on Tuesday prior to the NFL trade deadline, trading WR Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for a 2023 second-round pick and shortly after acquired CB William Jackson III from the Washington Commanders. The compensation was small for Jackson as Washington was set on unloading his contract off their team, trading Jackson and a 2025 conditional seventh-round pick for Pittsburgh’s 2025 conditional sixth-round pick. Instead of attempting to try and win Jackson after likely getting released by Washington, the Steelers opted to acquire him now, swapping late-round draft picks three years from now to get Jackson on their roster.
Jackson was the CB the Steelers wanted to draft in the 2016 NFL Draft in the first round, but he was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals one pick ahead of Pittsburgh. Instead, the team settled on Artie Burns, who became one of Kevin Colbert’s biggest misses. Seven years later, the Steelers get their man in Jackson as they attempt to add to a secondary that has been torched at times this season due to injuries and poor play from CBs like Ahkello Witherspoon.
So, what are the Steelers getting in CB William Jackson III? They are getting a long, cover corner that plays his best ball when in man coverage, specifically when he is allowed to press and jam receivers at the LOS. Washington HC Ron Rivera admitted that they had been playing Jackson out of his best scheme fit, trying to make him a zone corner rather that playing him to his strengths as a man cover corner, prompting them to move on from Jackson as he looks to go somewhere that better fits his skill set.
Pittsburgh does run more man coverage looks than Washington, and given the likely connections developed during the pre-draft process between Jackson and the Steelers organization, it was reported that Pittsburgh was Jackson’s preferred landing spot, making the move mutually beneficial for both sides. When you watch Jackson on tape, you see a long cover man with good play speed and the size to contest bigger receivers on the boundary. Here is a clip from last season of Jackson staying sticky in coverage with Mike Williams of the Chargers as he breaks up the pass along the sideline.
Here is an example of Jackson playing press man this season against Dallas with Jackson at the top of your screen. He looks to jam Michael Gallup and manages to flip his hips quickly as Gallup gets an inside release, running step-for-step with him down the field in tight coverage.
Here’s another rep against the Cowboys where Jackson is in man coverage against #88 CeeDee Lamb and stays right on his hip pocket from the top of lamb’s route as he breaks inside, deterring Cooper Rush from targeting Lamb as he instead connects with Noah Brown down the field for a big gain.
When in close quarters in man coverage, Jackson can represent himself well staying with receivers out of their breaks. Watch this rep against Jacksonville where Jackson runs stride-for-stride with Marvin Jones, staying with him from the top of his route through his break at the top of your screen.
Still, Jackson’s primary weakness pertains to his lack of foot quickness when he has to make quick transitions in coverage or break on the football in click-and-close situations. Here against the Cowboys, we see Jackson dropping into zone coverage deep down the field in a Cover 4 look, giving Lamb plenty of cushion to bring in the easy completion over the middle for first down yardage. Part of the issue is the coverage scheme, but Jackson is late to recognize and break on the ball
Jackson tends to guess at times when in off-man or in zone coverage, leading to pass catchers baiting him on double moves and generating tons of separation out of their break. Watch this TD catch by Lamb where Jackson isn’t in the same area code of Lamb, cheating more toward the boundary as Lamb runs a skinny post for the easy pitch-and-catch TD.
Here is another example of Jackson getting beat on a double move by Jones at the bottom of your screen as Jackson bites underneath and reacts late to Jones adjusting vertically down the field, falling a couple steps behind on coverage. Luckily for Jackson, the pass from Trevor Lawrence is overthrown and just falls incomplete.
Lacking ideal twitchiness and playing high and upright at times in coverage, Jackson will tend to get grabby with receivers coming out of their breaks. Watch this rep with Jackson lined up in the slot where he grabs Gallup as he breaks for the sideline, getting the yellow hanky thrown at him, thus giving Dallas a fresh set of downs.
It’s easy to tell that Jackson doesn’t look comfortable playing further away from the receiver in coverage, whether it be off-man or in zone. You may want to look away from this clip against the Jaguars as Jackson pauses his feet for his a second in his backpedal as the receiver comes out of his break inside, losing his balance and falling onto his back as the receiver runs wide open down the field. Again, Jackson gets lucky as Lawrence under throws the ball to another receiver before seeing a wide open target down the field.
Still, Jackson has shown that he can be opportunistic in coverage when the opportunity presents itself, even in zone coverage. Here is one of Jackson’s two INTs from last season as he covers deep third of the field in the red zone, keeping his eye on mike Williams running toward the end zone. However, Jackson breaks off Williams when he sees Justin Herbert targeting the H-Back, undercutting the route and picks off the pass.
When it comes to tackling, Jackson isn’t the most physical run defender as a DB, but he is willing and will stick his face in there to get the job done. Here are a couple examples against the Cowboys of Jackson making the tackle. The first comes on an underneath throw where Jackson closes space quickly and makes the stop along the sideline. The second comes near the LOS as Jackson fires downhill, running right past the face of the RT into the backfield to chop down #20 Tony Pollard for a loss. On both occasions, Jackson dives for the ballcarrier’s feet. You would like to see him run through the ballcarrier more for a better form tackle, but he manages to get the job done.
Overall, William Jackson III brings a specific skill set to Pittsburgh as a true man cover corner that plays his best ball in press man situations. He does a good job carrying receivers vertically up the sideline and has the height, length, and physicality to challenge bigger receivers at the catch point in contested catch situations. Given how much Witherspoon has struggled in these 50/50 ball situations thus far in 2022, Jackson provides more competent play in this facet of the game, especially against WRs including Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Amari Cooper in the AFC North.
While Pittsburgh does run more man coverage that the Commanders, the difference is only slight with Pittsburgh fifth in the league with 39.2% of their coverage looks in man coverage compared to the Commanders ranking tied for ninth in the league at 33.1% according to Sports Info Solutions. However, Pittsburgh has played in man coverage over 50% of their coverage snaps in three of their five games this season while the Commanders have never reached that threshold in a single game this season.
Jackson isn’t without his warts as his lack of foot quickness and tendencies to get grabby in coverage show up on tape. He isn’t quick to break on the ball thrown in-front of him in off coverage and can struggle staying in-phase on double moves. So far this season Jackson has allowed 17 completions on 24 targets (70.8%) for 190 yards and two TDs and no INTs, allowing a passer rating when targeted of 121.9, the highest of his career according to Pro Football Reference.
Still, Pittsburgh’s secondary needed help based on their performance to start the season and while Jackson may not move the needle a lot, there is a chance he provides better play than most of the options that they have in-house including Witherspoon who was benched last week in Philadelphia. Jackson also had been dealing with a back injury that kept him out since Week 5, potentially affecting his play.
We will see if Jackson is healthy and ready to contribute after Pittsburgh’s bye week with the New Orleans Saints up next on the schedule. With Jackson signed through the 2023 season, it looks like the remaining nine games of the season will be a test run to see if Jackson can rebound and prompt Pittsburgh to keep him on the roster past this season.
What are your thoughts on William Jackson III? Do you think that Pittsburgh got good value for the trade? How do you see him fitting into Pittsburgh’s this season, and do you think he will be with the team in 2023? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!