2022 NFL Free Agency: J.C. Jackson’s fit with the Los Angeles Chargers

After acquiring Khalil Mack, the Los Angeles Chargers have agreed to terms with arguably the No. 1 free agent on the board: CB J.C. Jackson.

The Los Angeles Chargers continue their steady charge toward competing at the top of the AFC with their reported addition of J.C. Jackson. The ex-New England Patriots cornerback agreed to terms on a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Chargers on Monday. The former undrafted free agent out of the University of Maryland secured the bag. However, Jackson didn’t hit the $20 million mark many had expected. How does his skill set fit Brandon Staley’s defense in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles Chargers agree to terms with J.C. Jackson

Jackson burst onto the scene two seasons ago with the Patriots. He was good enough for New England to feel comfortable parting ways with two-time All-Pro Stephon Gilmore. Jackson didn’t post elite testing numbers, and he is shorter than one would expect by peering at his turnover production. He stands under 5-foot-10, but he has a solid frame at over 200 pounds.

Nobody is going to complain about a cornerback who has 17 interceptions and 37 pass breakups over the past two years. Staley is a smart defensive-minded coach. But this is a bit of an awkward fit if you simply think about it in terms of what Staley likes to do.

How Jackson fits with the Chargers

Jackson is a man-to-man cornerback through and through. He has some of the best reactive athleticism in the NFL. There might not be a more impressive player in the league in those situations. Not only was he productive at taking the ball away, but he did so in a man-heavy defensive scheme.

That won’t be the case in Los Angeles — at least, from a philosophical perspective. Staley is a new-school, Quarters-based coach. Obviously, he changes things up and has found ways to fit personnel in the past. It’s why I believe in this signing, even if the fit doesn’t immediately jump out at you. In theory, Carlton Davis would have been a better fit.

But there are ways to get Jackson in more 1-on-1 man-coverage situations. Staley can use him as a weapon on defense. If he wants to have his defensive backs travel, he can use a plethora of trips checks to stay in zone on the strong side while putting Jackson on the backside in press-man coverage.

Jackson can survive in zone coverage. However, it’s clear that he’s an elite reactor when he’s able to just chase something, and he’s a tick slower when he has to think. Staley must use that to his advantage.

Chargers go all-in on Justin Herbert’s rookie deal

Staley and the Chargers’ front office needed to make significant changes to the defensive side of the ball after struggling in 2021. They play in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Derek Carr.

So, they went out and attacked. Trading for Khalil Mack was the start, and now they have signed the most talented cornerback on the free agent market. They also re-signed Mike Williams to keep the offense explosive. While the Jags spend all the money in free agency, the Chargers are splashing by finding great value for outstanding players.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.

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