Hawkeyes’ Jackson weighs his options
IOWA CITY — A breakthrough season as a first-year starting cornerback at Iowa has Josh Jackson weighing his options.
The Hawkeyes’ junior, who has intercepted as many passes as any player in college football this season, is working to decide whether to use his final year of eligibility or opt for an early exit for the next level.
Jackson is on schedule to earn his undergraduate degree from Iowa in May, and the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year admits he has gone back and forth with what might be best for him.
“I still haven’t made a final decision, but I have thought about going and I have thought about coming back,” Jackson said. “It’s not an easy decision.”
There may also not be a right or wrong answer.
One of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, Jackson understands there are no guarantees on either side of the equation.
Emerging last spring as the replacement for 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King at left cornerback, Jackson entered his junior season with 18 career tackles and six pass breakups on his resume.
This season, Jackson is tied with Lukas Denis of Iowa Pinstripe Bowl opponent Boston College and Florida Atlantic’s Jalen Young for the nation’s interception lead with seven. He leads the nation with 25 passes defended and is tied for second in the nation in pass breakups.
It’s all the result of his blend of athleticism, technical ability and understanding and great anticipatory skill.
He caught the eye of draft analysts when he intercepted three passes in Iowa’s win over Ohio State on Nov. 4.
When he intercepted two passes and returned both for touchdowns that accounted for the Hawkeyes’ only scores the following week in a game at Wisconsin, Jackson was recognized as one of the elite defenders in the country.
His work in games against those two top-10 teams put him on the radar of NFL scouts and draft analysts, and Jackson has played his way onto the list of players being referenced as potential first-round picks.
Jackson has discussed the situation with coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
They are working to put trustworthy information in Jackson’s hands.
“We probably have a couple guys that have some thinking to do, but the biggest thing is to just get them good, factual information so they know what they are deciding instead of speculating,” Ferentz said, also referencing the probability of junior center James Daniels trying to get a gauge on where he stands in the minds of NFL teams.
Iowa coaches have also told Jackson to enjoy the moment.
“They told me to enjoy the process, stay focused on what matters and told me not to get distracted,” Jackson said. “They’re there for me, and they have been helping me out, just telling me if I need anything to just talk to them.”
Jackson’s mother, Vanessa, has been dealing with any prospective agents who are interested in speaking with Jackson.
He said she has been supportive of him researching where things are at right now.
“I haven’t really talked with anybody,” he said.
Jackson, who returned to the practice field with the Hawkeyes this weekend after attending the College Football Awards program in Atlanta on Thursday, said he doesn’t know at this point how it all will play out.
He calls the situation “fluid” and said it remains up in the air.
Ferentz said Jackson is the one who will have to make the decision ultimately.
“Any time you have a really good underclassman, it’s a possibility,” Ferentz said. “The last few years, we’ve had two guys that have opted to stay with us. Desmond (King) and Brandon (Scherff), those guys were playing great.”
Both returned to Iowa for their senior seasons. King ended up as a fifth-round pick last year, while Scherff benefited from a strong senior season and was chosen in the draft’s first round in 2015.
Ferentz said his message to them wasn’t any different than what he is currently telling Jackson.
“You’ve already won the game in effect; you’re a really good player,” Ferentz said. “When you’re 26, you’re going to be playing in the NFL, which Desmond is going to be doing, same with Brandon. It’s really nice in life when you get to do what you want to do.”
But ultimately, the decision comes down to the player.
“It’s not my job to decide what’s best because how the heck would I know,” Ferentz said. “I think that ultimately, that has got to be up to the individual, and we don’t want anybody staying here if they are not (all in with) both feet on the ground.”
Jackson said he is no rush to reach a decision. He does face a Jan. 15 deadline to declare for early entry into the NFL draft.
“At some point, I’ll have to make a decision, but right now it is just something I’m thinking about,” Jackson said. “I need to think it through.”