BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots had the best defense in the NFL last year, and everybody knows that Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore had quite a bit to do with that. Yet the Patriots also employed another cornerback who was nearly as good, without nearly the same amount of national recognition.

Patriots fans know, of course, that that cornerback was J.C. Jackson.

Jackson came onto the scene without much fanfare, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2018. In his two NFL seasons, though, he’s made quite the impact.

So much so, in fact, that NFL.com listed Jackson as the second-best coverage player in the NFL in the 2019 season.

That ranking came out earlier this offseason, but the Patriots brought some revived attention to it on Tuesday morning.

The methodology for the NFL’s ranking involved passer rating allowed, catch rate allowed below expectation, tight window percentage, target rate and average separation yards. Players eligible for consideration were cornerbacks and safeties with a minimum of 300 coverage snaps and a minimum of 40 targets.

“Jackson was still a revelation for the Patriots despite starting just six games, allowing the lowest passer rating as the nearest defender in coverage among all defenders who qualified for this exercise, and the second-lowest completion percentage allowed,” Nick Shook wrote for NFL.com. “Jackson was excellent, especially in press coverage, allowing a passer rating of just 8.1 in such situations and recording all five of his interceptions while in press. No one was better in those two categories while in press. Add in his perfect passer rating allowed of 0.0 as the nearest defender on deep targets and you’ll see the resume of a defensive back poised to explode onto the scene as a soon-to-be-household name in the same defense that also features Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.”

Though he’s yet to make a Super Bowl-defining interception, Jackson certainly qualifies as another hidden gem discovered by Bill Belichick and staff at the cornerback position, a discovery made in the same year when the team allowed Malcolm Butler to walk via free agency.

The 24-year-old Jackson may not be the first name out of most football fans’ mouths when it comes to naming the top cornerbacks in the game. But with some high-profile assignments under his belt (like, say, covering Tyreek Hill in an AFC Championship Game), and with a Super Bowl victory on his resume, Jackson is in position to cement himself into that elite group of corners if he’s able to build upon his first two seasons of work in 2020.

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