Typically, players who win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in the NFL are first-round draft picks. In fact, no player drafted lower than 18th overall has won the award since DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans did so in 2006 after being drafted with the first pick of round two.
So while it is not surprising to see one of the Green Bay Packers’ rookie cornerbacks on a list of top candidates for the award, it is a surprise to see which name showed up on the list: it’s Josh Jackson, who was the 45th overall selection in the draft.
Pro Football Focus listed out their top five candidates for the DROY award this year, and Jackson comes in at number five. The top three names on the list all fit pretty closely with the recent trend of high draft picks — Chicago’s Roquan Smith (#8 overall), the Chargers’ Derwin James (#17) and Dallas’ Leighton Vander Esch (#19) are all on the list. But with their final two names, PFF went off the top of the board, picking Jackson and Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (a fifth-round selection) as their other two possibilities.
For Jackson, the rationale is relatively straightforward: defensive backs win the award with gaudy interception and pass breakup numbers.
A defensive back’s chances of winning rookie of the year tend to revolve more around the big plays he will make than they do around his overall level of play. Josh Jackson may not have the most complete game of this defensive back class, but he made more plays on the ball than anyone last season. He was the second-most targeted corner in the nation (89), and that enabled him to come away with eight interceptions and a monstrous 17 pass breakups, meaning he broke up a pass on 28 percent of the targets that arrived in his coverage.
At this point, there is no guarantee that Jackson will earn enough playing time to put up the types of statistics that will draw eyes in his direction for this award, particularly with new teammate Jaire Alexander (the 18th overall pick) joining him in the Packers’ cornerback room. However, Jackson’s ball skills indeed make him an interesting player to watch for this award.
The Packers last had a player named Rookie of the Year in 2013, when running back Eddie Lacy won the award as Offensive ROY. The team’s last Defensive Rookie of the Year was cornerback Willie Buchanon, who took home the award in 1972 after intercepting four passes and recovering three fumbles in 14 games.