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William Jackson III Familiar With Steelers’ Scheme

In one of two unorthodox in-season trades for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team traded for Washington Commanders’ cornerback William Jackson III. Jackson, who was drafted and spent his first four seasons with the team’s AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals, has a few connections with the Steelers. That is, Jackson played under current Steelers’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in 2018, and spent time with head coach Mike Tomlin in the pre-draft process in 2016. When asked about the two connections, Jackson stated that they will be helpful in his transition in a Wednesday press conference according to Steelers.com.

“I did,” Jackson said when asked if he thought the Steelers would draft him in 2016. “You know, I sat down with Mike T. [Tomlin] and all them and we was talking and I just thought it was going to happen. But, you know, things happen in the draft.”

What Jackson is referring to is the infamous Bengals’ selection of him one pick before the Steelers, who had significant interest in him. By all accounts, the Steelers were ready to sprint with their draft card with the Jackson selection if it was not for the Bengals. As is well known, the team wound up drafting cornerback Artie Burns instead, who did not work out and is among former general manager Kevin Colbert’s first round misses.

More than anything, this trade nearly six years after the fact speaks to the extent of the team’s interest in the corner. Notably, this was the draft that took place after the Wild Card victory by Pittsburgh in Cincinnati, a game that featured the hit by linebacker Vontaze Burfict on receiver Antonio Brown. Needless to say, this was a time where tensions between the two teams were at an all-time high, and the Bengals’ selection of Jackson did not help matters.

For Jackson, the Steelers’ pre-draft interest was no secret, and his time spent with the organization may just come into play. However, the more immediate and recent connection with Austin may be the one that serves his transition the most.

“Yeah, it’s definitely similar,” Jackson said when asked about his familiarity with Austin. “But just different terminology. I had him for a year and he did great with me and it’s just crazy how it all came back around.”

For context, Austin was the Bengals’ defensive coordinator in 2018, their 16th and final season with head coach Marvin Lewis. This was not a great season for the Bengals, who had a 6-10 record. For Jackson, this was not one of his better seasons. Indeed, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a 101.9 passer rating, 38 catches, and 493 yards with a solid 72.9 PFF coverage grade.

In hindsight, it is strange to see both Jackson and Austin as Steelers in 2022. Given the team’s poor pass coverage in their recent outing against the Philadelphia Eagles, any help should be welcomed. Jackson plays best in man coverage, which the Steelers are playing at an increasing rate this season. While his numbers are indeed disparaging, it is not unusual for a change of scenery to result in an improvement in play, and maybe even a big one.

The trade for Jackson is a low-risk move. In the best case scenario, the Steelers’ pre-draft interest in proven true and they find someone to fill in the hole at cornerback. In the worst case, Jackson does not pan out, which is not a big deal given the small draft compensation they gave up.

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