Should the Vikings Target William Jackson in Free Agency?
Last offseason, the Vikings lost three key cornerbacks when Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander, and Trae Waynes all left in free agency. This offseason, the Vikings will be looking to revamp a defense that has lost a step since 2019. One block towards rebuilding the once great defense could be free agent William Jackson. He was recently listed as one of Bleacher Report’s ideal free agency targets for the Vikings. There are few good reasons as to why.
Jackson was a first round draft pick by the Bengals in the 2016 Draft. After missing the entire 2016 season due to a torn pectoral muscle in training camp, Jackson has bounced back from that injury to become a consistent starter for the Bengals over the past four seasons.
His 2017 season was particularly great where he earned a PFF grade of 90.2. While he struggled a bit in 2018 in his first year as a full-time starter, he has bounced back to be a top-25 CB in 2019 and 2020. His ability to stay on the field since the injury puts him among the top free agents at the cornerback position this offseason.
Fit in Minnesota
The Vikings have promising, young corners in Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, and even Harrison Hand. That said, they do not have much of a veteran presence at CB. Should Anthony Harris leave in free agency, Harrison Smith is the only real veteran left in the secondary. The 28-year-old Jackson would be a great fit because of his veteran status, and what he brings to the table every week.
Not only is he a veteran that can bring the younger guys up to speed, but he has experience as a CB1. Of course, it isn’t quite ideal that he was CB1 for a Bengals’ defense that at times was a revolving door, but I would say Jackson was one of the few bright spots on that unit.
Jackson was PFF’s 20th graded cornerback in the 2020 season, putting him among those worthy of CB1 consideration. His grade of 71.4 surpassed the grades of both Cameron Dantzler (70.9) and Jeff Gladney (50.1). On his 74 targets, Jackson allowed an opposing QB rating of just 88.2. To go along with his coverage ability, he is a heavy-hitting CB that will not miss a ton of tackles. He missed just four tackles in 2020 and his percentage of 8.2% was equal to that of star Vikings safety, Harrison Smith.
Dantzler progressed greatly as the season wore on, and if the Vikings can put Jackson alongside him next season, the combination of those two cornerbacks could do great things, especially in the NFC North. The Packers have, up to this point, notoriously done very little to give Aaron Rodgers a reliable WR2, Allen Robinson in all likelihood will be leaving Chicago, and Detroit has three of their top receivers entering free agency. Two viable cornerbacks in this division could be a wrecking ball for opposing offenses.
Going off of Spotrac, they project that Jackson’s next contract will be in the ballpark of $6.3 million per year. They estimated a 3-yr/$19 million deal. This is going off the market value of players with similar age and productivity like Bradley Roby, Darryl Roberts, and Travis Carrie.
If the Vikings move some money around, as it seems they will do, this is not that steep a price to pay for someone that could help anchor a secondary. Jackson has played in 59 out of a possible 64 games since the injury that eliminated his rookie season. Having a veteran that is reliable would be of great value to this team moving into 2021 and beyond while they try to develop their other defensive backs.
If the price is right, Jackson is a great pickup for all the things mentioned above. One final thing that stands out to me is that it would alter the Vikings draft. I have seen many people worried that Zimmer is going to be stubborn and push for the Vikings to draft a CB with a day one or two pick because, well, that’s how he’s always operated.
If the Vikings pick up Jackson, there is very little reason to pick up another corner highly in the draft, and it allows the Vikings to put sole focus on their needs along the offensive and defensive lines. It’s not a huge thing, but just a little something to keep in mind.