Tyson Campbell is back to being Tyson Campbell.
That was the sentiment from Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer after the Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Buffalo Bills 9-6 at home, after signs of the Jaguars' top defensive rookie beginning to find his footing in the NFL following being thrown to the wolves as a young pup.
“Tyson was really good and he is healthy now. You look in his eyes and he is back to being Tyson," Meyer said the Monday after the win.
"He was gone for a few weeks. First of all, you got – Jamarr Chase got him a little bit, lost a little bit of confidence and then he hurt himself and had that toe injury. He did not look the same as Tyson, but he is doing great right now. Very confident and he played really well.”
One week after Campbell was put through a tough test against Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett, the No. 33 overall pick had one of the best games of his rookie campaign and played a big role in the Jaguars' dominant defensive effort in a massive upset of one of the AFC's best teams.
And since then, Campbell hasn't slowed down. Instead of plateauing after a rebound from early-season struggles, Campbell has become of the highlights of the Jaguars' 2021 season.
The start of Campbell's rookie campaign was far from ideal for all parties. Campbell was drafted with the first pick of the second-round because the Jaguars saw him as a long-term fixture in the secondary, no matter in what position. As such, Campbell's NFL career began as a slot cornerback as the Jaguars attempted to fit him, Shaquill Griffin, and CJ Henderson onto the field together.
This experiment lasted just two regular season games, with Campbell being moved outside in Week 3 after Henderson missed the game with a shoulder injury. Henderson would never play another down for the Jaguars, and Campbell's awkward fit in the slot would no longer be a pressing issue for a struggling Jaguars secondary.
But even with the move to the outside, Campbell still had to find his way. The rookie cornerback was tasked with covering star Cincinnati Bengals rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase in Week 4 and allowed seven catches for 158 yards to the Bengals' receiver group in the loss. It was a low moment for Campbell, who was also battling injuries at the time and would go on to miss the next two games.
Since then, though, a switch has been flipped for Campbell. He was again baptized by fire against the Seahawks in Week 8, but even then the Jaguars' rookie cornerback began to show flashes that his rookie wall had not been hurdled, but had instead been running through with a ferocity.
"His practice ever since he came out with an injury, you can see he’s playing the ball much better than he did early in his tenure here. I just like the way he’s walking around here," Meyer after Campbell played well in a Week 10 loss to the Colts.
"He’s got a little bit of that [swagger], corners are different ducks now. I don’t like the shy corner.”
"[He’s an] A+ guy. To me when you talk about culture, enhance your strengths, fix your weaknesses. That might be the perfect example.”
Since the Seahawks game, Campbell has been on a tear. The rookie cornerback has recorded four of his seven pass breakups and his lone interception in the last three weeks, tying him among all rookie cornerbacks in pass breakups in that span, per TruMedia and PFF. Campbell has allowed eight catches on 16 targets for 76 yards (9.5 yards per catch), second-best among rookie cornerbacks.
Campbell's breakout performance came against the Falcons in Week 12, with the rookie picking off Matt Ryan for his first NFL interception while recording a total of three pass breakups.
It was a game in which the Jaguars were playing without No. 1 cornerback Shaquill Griffin and badly needed to see Campbell grow up before their eyes. And in a game in which he frequently came up big for the Jaguars in key moments, he did just that.
“Well, it was really encouraging. We all thought, I think everybody saw the same thing, I mean, he had his best game of his short career," Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen said on Thursday.
"He attacked the football, he was coming up, making tackles, great play on the interception. He continues to get better every week. He was fighting through—you know, everyone this time of year has the bruises and the nicks and all that stuff—so he was fighting through that and I thought he did a great job.”
"Like I said, it's just putting in the work, having faith in myself and my craft, not paying attention to the outside noise and keeping the main thing the main thing. I think that's part of this league," Campbell said after the Falcons game. "I'm learning that's going to be ups and downs but it's how you bounce back from it. That's what I've been doing."
Campbell's progression isn't something that has been seen from just outside viewers or those clinging for any positives. Instead it has been felt by his teammates and coaches, with veterans such as Josh Allen, Shaquill Griffin, and Rayshawn Jenkins all pointing out his play in recent weeks.
They all know what Campbell has learned this year. In the NFL, it can be hard to find your footing and even harder to keep it once you do. That is why it is so noteworthy when a young player like Campbell is able to bounce back and keep their confidence after some early defeats.
"It’s been great. Anytime you can see a younger guy, especially in this league, improve every week. That just says something about that guy," Jenkins said this week.
"Not only physically but mentally. It’s hard to play in this league and you’re playing against great players every Sunday. He struggled a bit in the beginning but like you just said, he is starting to pick it up and he is really starting to come on right now.”
2021 hasn't been what the Jaguars hoped for and it hasn't always been what Campbell likely expected either. But over the last month, Campbell has proven to be a silver lining in a year in which there are few to come by.
If he can continue that over the next six weeks, the Jaguars will have done more than hit on a key draft pick. They will have seen Tyson Campbell find himself as a rookie and become a shining example of what development looks like in a young