No-brainer: Iowa's Josh Jackson goes to the NFL

Junior cornerback had one of best seasons in Iowa history

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Josh Jackson (15) high-fives fans as they celebrate the Hawkeyes' Big Ten Conference football win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. Iowa won 56-14. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

You just didn’t know if THIS was going to happen for Josh Jackson.

He ended spring practice of his freshman year dropping what would’ve been a long TD pass. Last year, when it was legitimately “his time,” Jackson lost his spot on the depth chart to a true freshman.

This year, the deck was clear for the junior from Corinth, Texas. The 6-1, 190-pounder left no doubt and put up one of the best seasons for a cornerback in Iowa football history.

“Best seasons” really count and Jackson is now going to work parlaying his 2017 into NFL riches.

Jackson announced via his Twitter account Wednesday that he would skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. Jackson is the eighth underclassman to declare early for the NFL draft in Kirk Ferentz’s 19 seasons as Iowa’s head coach (Fred Russell, Dallas Clark, Shonn Greene, Bryan Bulaga, Amari Spievey, Tyler Sash and Riley Reiff).

“Growing up, it has always been my dream to play in the National Football League,” Jackson said in his post. “I am excited for the next step and humbled by this opportunity.”

This wasn’t a straight line for Jackson.

In 2015, he settled into a nickel cornerback role behind Desmond King and Greg Mabin, a pair of three-year starters, with King being the 2015 Thorpe Award winner. Then in 2016, Manny Rugamba flew out of the gates in August camp and bumped Jackson out of the nickel role.

Jackson ended 2016 as a starter after a pair of injuries. You thought he was going to work in 2017. The stage was set, but Jackson had to go do it.

And now the fake debate question is who had the better “breakout” season, King or Jackson?

King won the Thorpe Award with eight interceptions (tied for second in the nation in 2015), 72 tackles, 21 passes defended (fifth in the nation).

Jackson was a Thorpe finalist. His eight interceptions will lead the nation. His 26 passes defended will lead the nation. His 18 passes broken up is fourth in the nation. Jackson finished with 48 tackles.

Now, let’s not debate. These seasons are gold standard for any defensive back anywhere. The difference that jumps off the page is tackles, and that’s probably the difference between King and Jackson.

King is a much more physical player, who’s comfortable mixing it up on the line of scrimmage. Jackson is more of a pure cornerback. Those are much more in demand in the NFL. King lasted until the fifth and flat out said the NFL draft advisory gave him a “back to school” grade. Jackson got a first- or second-round grade.

The fact that the NFL looks at Jackson as a corner probably clinched this decision for him. He was the best corner in the nation this season and he’ll get paid like that when the NFL holds its 2018 draft on April 26-28.

Jackson is a first-rounder in every NFL mock draft. Let’s pick one ... OK, CBS Sports today has Jackson going No. 19 to the Dallas Cowboys.

That puts Jackson in “Adoree Jackson” country. Jackson won the Thorpe Award last season out of USC. He went No. 18 in the draft to the Tennessee Titans. He signed a four-year deal worth $11.2 million with a signing bonus of $6.3 million.

Four corners were drafted in the first round in 2017. The signing bonuses ranged from $9.3 million for Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore (11th pick to the Saints) to $5.5 million for LSU’s Tre’Davious White.

Off the field, Jackson, a consensus and unanimous all-American this year, is just as ready to leave college. He will turn 22 in April, a prime draft age. He is set to graduate in May.

This all simply added up that the NFL was the best decision possible for Jackson.

Most of his teammates during this time gave Jackson his space. Linebacker Josey Jewell submitted to the NFL draft advisory evaluation last year. He got a “stay in school” grade and did so, also earning consensus and unanimous all-American.

In interviews leading up to last week’s Pinstripe Bowl, everyone knew what Jackson should do. To avoid being a distraction, no one was saying or talking much about it.

Jewell said a lot by saying a little.

“I don’t think he needs a lot of advice on that,” Jewell said. “I think he knows which way he needs to go. I was a little different scenario. I wasn’t close to the level he’s at right now. It’s different for both of us, but I’m sure he’ll handle it correctly.”

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