BOSTON (CBS) — It isn’t unusual for an undrafted rookie to eventually emerge as a key contributor for the New England Patriots.
Bill Belichick has had an undrafted rookie on his Week 1 roster for the last 15 years, and many times, they’ve broken out late in the season. Malcolm Butler obviously highlights the list, which also includes the likes of running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Bolden, current starting center and team captain David Andrews, and current backup QB Brian Hoyer.
This year, it’s another undrafted corner who is making an impact late in the season. Much like Butler in 2014, undrafted corner J.C. Jackson has climbed up the depth chart in New England, recently taking over as the Patriots’ No. 2 corner across from starter Stephon Gilmore. He’s started each of the last four games over Jason McCourty, a 10-year veteran in the NFL.
Jackson has played some strong defense lately, highlighted by an impressive interception in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills. He read rookie QB Josh Allen perfectly, breaking off his defensive assignment to make a leaping grab on a pass intended for Deonte Thompson. It was Jackson’s third interception of the season, which ranks him second on the Patriots.
His play in games has inspired a lot of praise throughout New England, but on Wednesday, Belichick also applauded everything that Jackson does throughout the week.
“Just steady grinder, one day at a time, just trying to get better,” Belichick said of the rookie out of Maryland. “If he makes mistakes, try to correct it. He works at it, usually shows some improvement in that area, go on to something else. But, his durability, his consistency and just being out there every day practicing, doing things, getting corrected, getting better, working on them the next day. I mean, that’s really how you improve. So, practicing and being durable and being consistent, it goes a long way.”
That explains why Jackson, who was a healthy scratch for the first two weeks of the season, has ascended up the depth chart. It’s part of the reason why he was on the field for all 61 defensive snaps on Sunday against Buffalo.
The other factor, of course, is the strong play he’s displayed whenever given his opportunity. Jackson has yet to allow a touchdown this season, and opposing quarterbacks are completing just 43 percent of the throws they send his way.
The Patriots secondary has had their ups and downs throughout the season, but are currently on a pretty solid upswing. A lot of that has to do with the emergence of another undrafted rookie, who now finds himself making some key contributions from atop the depth chart.
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