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What Happened to Josh Jackson?

Josh Jackson went from 10 passes defensed as a rookie in 2018 to being inactive for last year's playoffs behind a player the Packers released last week.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Josh Jackson is the personification of the term “one-year wonder.”

In 2015 and 2016 at Iowa, Jackson started one game and broke up six passes.

In 2017, Jackson led the nation with eight interceptions and ranked third with 18 passes defensed en route to earning consensus first-team All-American and winning the Big Ten’s Tatum-Woodson Award as the conference’s top defensive back.

That made Jackson a potential first-round pick in the 2018 draft. The Packers grabbed him in the middle of the second round and were rewarded with 10 starts and 10 passes defensed during a promising rookie season.

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His career has gone sideways, though. Jackson didn’t start any games and didn’t break up any passes in 2019. In 2020, he replaced injured Kevin King for five starts but, by season’s end, he became buried so far down the depth chart that he had to reach up to touch bottom. Jackson was inactive for both playoff games behind KeiVarae Russell, who the Packers thought so little of that they released him last week.

With that, Jackson will enter his fourth training camp not just fighting for playing time but fighting for a roster spot. Jaire Alexander, King and Chandon Sullivan are back to reclaim the starting positions, and the Packers invested a first-round pick in Eric Stokes and a fifth-round choice in Shemar Jean-Charles.

What happened?

“I think it’s more confidence than anything,” defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Jerry Gray said. “But sometimes you can’t force guys to do certain things. I think Josh is going to be fine. Biggest thing we’ve got to make sure we get with Josh is, ‘Hey, look there’s a lot of good football players here, it’s going to be competing.’ We’re going to compete every play. Even in practice, we’re going to compete and we’ve got to make sure those guys are ready to go when they get a chance.”

Jackson has gone from 718 snaps and the 10 passes defensed in 2018, to just 103 snaps and no passes defensed in 2019, to 331 snaps and two passes defensed in 2020. Of the snaps last season, 321 came during the 5 1/2-game stretch in which King was sidelined. Over the final eight games (including playoffs), he played three defensive snaps in two games.

In three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus, he’s allowed a 68.8 percent catch rate with six touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 112.5 passer rating. With Jackson entering the final season of his four-year, $6.26 million contract, the cap-strapped Packers could wipe his base salary of just over $1.33 million off the books.

Maybe the new defensive scheme and philosophies brought by coordinator Joe Barry will be just the ticket in salvaging Jackson’s career.

“I wouldn’t discount Josh,” Gray said.