The Green Bay Packers have pick No. 14 in April’s NFL Draft, and one of the positions that may be addressed in the first round is cornerback. They may have their choice between the two top cornerbacks from the Big Ten, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward and Iowa’s Josh Jackson. These players are close, and while one or both of them (doubtful) may be gone by 14, it is fun to think about which player will be best for Green Bay.
First off, both guys are tremendous football players, and Green Bay would be fortunate to be able to draft either one of them. The two defensive backs met in early November, with Jackson stealing the show. The Iowa cornerback had three of his eight interceptions that evening, including a sensational one-handed grab, in the Hawkeyes dominating performance.
I will start off with the Iowa cornerback, who not only had three interceptions against Ohio State, but followed that up with two picks returned for scores the following week at Wisconsin. He also sealed Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College with a late interception. Jackson led the nation in both interceptions and passes defensed this past season. He was a finalist for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.
When targeted this season, Jackson only allowed a quarterback rating of 39.7, and is the highest rated cornerback in the NFL Draft by Pro Football Focus. He made a play on 25.7 percent of the targets this past season. The Green Bay secondary desperately needs a playmaker, and Jackson could be that guy. Iowa players are typically well-coached, and the Packers (albeit, a different regime) have drafted many Iowa players in recent years. Jackson didn’t allow a touchdown after week four in 2017.
At 6-foot-1, Jackson has the size for a cornerback, and add his length, and he has the potential to be a big-time corner. It will be interesting to see if it was a one-year wonder for the former Hawkeye, as he only had one career start and zero interceptions before this season.
Ward had to wait his turn with the Buckeyes, waiting behind first round picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, as a sophomore. When given his opportunity, he made the most of it. In his first game as the No. 1 corner for Ohio State against Indiana, he was targeted 18 times and allowed six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, but he also added an interception. The score was a perfectly thrown ball to Simmie Cobbs. For a team that threw the ball 68 times for 420 yards, Ward did a nice job in his first action as the Buckeyes top corner.
The Ohio State product does not have the playmaking ability Jackson has, but is just as stingy in coverage. He only had two interceptions, but he had a dozen pass break-ups on 57 targets. When targeted, Ward allowed a passer rating of just 52.9 when targeted, allowing just 21 receptions. The former Buckeye ended his season with a bang too, not allowing a catch on three targets. while picking off a pass in the Big Ten Championship win against Wisconsin.
Ward’s Pro Football Focus rating of 91.4 was the third highest among cornerbacks in 2017, only trailing Jackson and UAB’s Darious Williams. Jackson stole the show in the Iowa/Ohio State meeting this past year, but Ward also had a nice day. Todd McShay has called him the best pure cover corner in the draft.
In addition to Ward’s skills as a cover cornerback, he is not afraid to mix it up in run support either. To pair him up with last year’s top pick Kevin King, it would be nice to have a pair of nice, young cornerbacks who are good in coverage and are not afraid to stick their nose in on run defense.
Like I said at the top, either of these corners would help Green Bay’s porous pass defense. There is a chance (albeit, probably slim) that both of these corners are available at 14. Of course, much of this will be decided in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, which starts next week. But these are two players for Packers fans to keep an eye on at the combine and draft.——————
Jonathon Zenk is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He is a huge Packers fan, and a graduate of The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. You can follow Jonathon on Twitter at @jzenk42