The Pittsburgh Steelers thought they were going to be drafting cornerback William Jackson III in the first round back in 2018. Apparently, so did he, but the division rival Cincinnati Bengals foiled both of their expectations by picking him just before the Steelers’ selection.
As we’ve talked about numerous times, former Steelers defensive backs coach has previously admitted that they were all set to draft Jackson as they were one pick away from being on the clock. After he went off the board, they settled for the next cornerback on their board, Artie Burns. The two have had different career arcs, it’s fair to say.
One wonders how the past six years might have gone differently if Jackson slid one pick further. While he did not discuss such hypotheticals with reporters yesterday, he did acknowledge that he expected to land in Pittsburgh. “I sat down with Mike T and all them and we were talking”, he told reporters via the team’s website. “I just thought it was gonna happen but, you know, things happen in the draft”.
It’s hard to gauge exactly what that means, but generally when a player years down the line talks about having expected to be drafted by some team or other, it is rooted in having built a relationship with that team during the pre-draft process and feeling good about it.
It is worth noting that Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera, whom Jackson has played under the past two years, said after the trade was made that they were hoping for a fresh start not only at the cornerback position for themselves, but also for Jackson, happy to send him not just out of the conference but to a team that fits him better.
when you get it wrong, when you recognize it, realize it, time to move on”, Rivera said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to, not just for our sake, but also to give William an opportunity to go to a team that knows that they’re gonna give this guy a shot to use his skill set in exactly what they do specifically”.
He also made it very clear that they have learned the hard way over the past season and a half that Jackson is a man cover corner and was not suited to their schemes. It sounds as though he genuinely wanted to move him, for his own sake, to a team that not only could, but would, accentuate his strengths, as the Bengals did for four years.
We don’t know how the past six years might have been different if the Steelers then landed Jackson instead of Burns. But now they have a chance to determine what their delayed union will look like moving forward—and whether or not it will last more than just nine games.