While head coach Nick Saban and his Alabama football team remained unbeaten after their victory over Texas A&M this past weekend, the Crimson Tide did however suffer their first major loss of the season when senior safety Eddie Jackson fractured his leg in the game and was lost for the season.
Jackson had developed into a ball hawking safety and leader in the defensive secondary after being converted to safety from cornerback.
After spending his first two seasons on campus at corner, Jackson was asked to make the position switch in the Spring of 2015 and all he did was lead the SEC with six interceptions, racking up 230 yards of interception return yards, and two pick sixes. Those 230 return yards broke a school record which had previously been set back in 1952 (Hootie Ingram)
Jackson was named an All-SEC first team selection by the league coaches, and a second team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
As a safety Jackson has the height, length, and speed to go along with ball hawking skills that make him an enticing free safety prospect. He possesses the sudden stop/start ability along with agility in his lower body to quickly change directions without slowing down. Jackson exhibits terrific speed and range that allows him to cover a good chunk of real estate, anywhere from between the hash marks to the sideline, in the defensive secondary. Jackson does a good job of diagnosing the play and flowing to where the ball may end up by keying on the quarterback in the backfield.
He has been able to bait some signal callers into throwing the ball into areas of the field where he can defend the route and create a turnover.
While in coverage, Jackson’s speed and quickness permit him to close in immediately on anything in front of him. His height and length allows him the versatility to cover taller receivers as well as tight ends both in the flats or down the seams. As a former high school receiver, Jackson displays outstanding ball skills and soft hands as he is able to high-point a ball or simply go up and pluck it out of the air. For his career at Alabama, Jackson recorded 10 interceptions.
However, having only played one full season and eight games at safety, Jackson still has some areas that he will need to work on in order to excel at the next level. Chief among them would have to be adding strength to his thin build with hopes of better preparing his body to compete at the point of contact. If Jackson was not successful in avoiding blockers with his quickness and speed, he stood no chance of getting around them.
There were also plays when Jackson was too late in providing over the top help and would arrive after the completion had been made. In some examples he would be caught in between unsure if he should come down on the receiver running a route in between the hash marks and sidelines or continue to drop back and help the outside corner. That split second indecision allowed for some big plays to be completed on the Alabama defense.
Jackson also showed a tendency to overrun plays and he would attempt to tackle the ball carrier up high which led to missed tackles. Taking better angles in pursuit while also making sure to wrap up and secure the tackle are areas that Jackson could stand to improve in.
Overall, Jacksons combination of height, speed, and ball skills as a free safety project nicely at the NFL level. While he is not the physical presence or enforcer some teams prefer in their secondaries, the versatility he provides as a safety who can supply over the top help as well as an ability to cover would make him a defender who could be utilized in a number of defensive packages. Jackson also would provide an added bonus as a punt returner on special teams, as he was leading the NCAA with a 23 yards per return average prior to his injury.
The major questions now surrounding Jackson would be his recent leg injury and how much the layoff and rehab will impact his ability to prepare for the combine and his pro day.