Secret Superstar: Kareem Jackson
Nathan Jahnke breaks down Kareem Jackson's ascent to the top of the AFC cornerback rankings as Jackson is the Houston Texans' Secret Superstar.
Secret Superstar: Kareem Jackson
When you are a first-round pick, all eyes in the media are on you which make it hard to be a secret. Kareem Jackson was drafted in 2010 and in two years slowly faded into the background while free agent pickups Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning became the stars of Houston’s secondary.
In his case the third year was the charm, as he starred in a secondary that, as a unit, didn’t live up to expectations. While some fans may have given up on Jackson and prematurely given him the bust tag, the Texans stuck with him and his third year was his best. Houston has some great young players on their defense, and after you see why he is the Texans Secret Superstar, you’ll know why Jackson is one of the up and coming defensive stars.
Jackson spent three years in Alabama with at least nine passes defended in each season. He left after his junior year and was picked with the 20th overall pick by the Texans in the 2010 draft. He started from day one and teams were ready to take advantage of the rookie. In his first five weeks as a pro, he allowed 29 catches for 426 yards on 43 targets. It didn’t help that he had six missed tackles in his first eight games. His worst game came against the San Diego Chargers where he allowed a combined five catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns from Patrick Crayton and Seyi Ajirotutu.
From that point on, the Texans stopped using Jackson as a full-time player while Brice McCain and Jason Allen took some of his playing time. In the vast majority of cases, a team will use two of their cornerbacks on every down and have a third cornerback they use for their nickel defense. Houston makes substitutions throughout the game in their base defense at cornerback making them a unique situation.
Since that Chargers game, he didn’t allow another touchdown in his rookie season. Outside of two 50+ yard catches allowed late in the season, the second half was significantly better than the first.
No Second Year Rebound
To begin his second year, he continued to share time with Jason Allen. In a Week 3 matchup against the Saints, he allowed eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. The following week, he showed up on the injury report with a knee injury and missed the next two games.
The rest of the season, he didn’t have a single game as bad as the Saints game, but still allowed a high 61.3% catch rate and 17.0 yards per catch which was amongst the highest rate allowed in the league. His snaps decreased as the season went on, going from 72% the first half of the season to 55% in the second half, all the way down to 48% in the playoffs.
Everything Changed in 2012
The first thing that made year three different for Jackson was that Jason Allen was no longer on the roster, so Jackson went back to playing the majority of snaps. Over the course of the season he played in 95% of all snaps.
Secondly, he had a lot more passes defended which led to a lower catch rate allowed. Through the whole season he had 15 passes defended which was fifth most for all cornerbacks. This led to him allowing a low 47.7% catch rate, which was sixth lowest for all cornerbacks who were targeted at least 50 times. Over his first two years he only had three interceptions, but in year three he more than doubled his career total with four interceptions in 2012.
His best game of the season came in a defensive battle against the Bears. The Texans’ offense only managed 13 points in the game, so the Texans’ defense picked up the slack and only allowed six. While Johnathan Joseph did his best to handle Brandon Marshall, Jackson was responsible for the rest of the Bears’ wide receivers. Early in the game on a 3rd-and-1 play, the Bears had a short pass to Devin Hester on which Jackson made the tackle for no gain. In the second quarter on another third down, Jackson had a pass defensed on a fly route. Within two minutes left in the half, the Bears were entering scoring range but Jackson was able to stop a third drive in the half with an interception. Jackson played so well in the first half that he was only targeted once in the second half on a play that was called back due to an offensive holding penalty.
He did his part when it mattered most which was in the playoffs. Over his two playoff games, he allowed seven catches but also had five passes defended. Last but not least, he cleaned up his missed tackles. After missing six in his first eight games as a pro, he has only missed six in his last 43 games. He ended up with the highest coverage rating for all cornerbacks in the AFC in 2012 at +12.5.
Future All-Star Defense
The Texans have hit on recent first round draft picks with Brian Cushing, Jackson, and J.J. Watt. The jury is still out on Whitney Mercilus, and they have also used three recent second round picks on defense. The few positions that aren’t filled with a young up and coming player are filled with known veterans. This defense looks like it can be one of the best not only this year, but years to come if they can develop their young players correctly. Jackson is one of the big pieces of the puzzle.
He is just another reminder that you shouldn’t be too quick to judge young players. With enough time to develop, they could still become a superstar even if they have a slow start.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke