Asa Jackson was a four-time all-conference selection at Cal Poly. He was one of two players to start as a freshman. He was named the best defensive player in his conference, twice, and was named a third-team All-American.
All of that should lead Jackson to be drafted in this weekend’s NFL Draft. But how much of a contributor will Jackson be to an NFL franchise?
Well, it’s hard to say.
“He has strong footwork and understands how to cover in man,” his combine profile on NFL.com states. “There is little denying his speed and athletic ability give him a great shot to compete at the next level and the potential factor in his game could affect his value from a mid-round pick to even higher.”
Regardless of where he is taken, there’s one criticism scouts across the board have on Jackson: He didn’t play against NFL talent.
That’s not quite true.
Take Cal Poly’s schedule into account over the time Jackson’s been on campus. The team hasn’t been shy about playing Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools, as Jackson was a part of Cal Poly’s epic 36-35 overtime loss to Wisconsin as a true freshman. Even since then, Jackson and the Cal Poly defense has gone up against FBS schools like San Diego State, Fresno State and Northern Illinois, along with Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) powerhouses Montana and Eastern Washington.
And he’s played against NFL talent on the practice field, as well.
He’s matched up against Ramses Barden, who was drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, Tre’dale Tolver, who did this against Wisconsin in 2008, and Dominique Johnson, who dumfounded one of the FCS’ best cornerbacks — Trumaine Johnson — during Cal Poly’s win over Montana two seasons ago (watch the top of the screen at 5:40).
That being said, I’ll tell you one thing. Jackson may be the most aggressive corner I’ve seen while covering Cal Poly, which is a good and bad thing. Teams use this aggressiveness to their advantage, as San Diego State did on a double move that turned into a 30-yard touchdown in 2008.
But at the same time, there have been countless times where Jackson’s put the team on his back and used that aggressiveness to his advantage. Consider the game against South Dakota Sate in the Mustangs’ home opener last year. With the Jackrabbits threatening to score, Jackson undercut a route, intercepted the pass and ran it back 100-yards for a score. He then ran another back 52 yards for a touchdown against Central Oklahoma two weeks later.
That type of playmaking and aggressiveness has made Jackson invaluable to the Mustangs for the past four seasons.
And it’s led others to believe he could be an everyday contributor.
“Jackson has the athletic ability, technical skills and innate instincts to be a starting NFL cornerback,” Jimmy O’Brien wrote on Draftbreakdown.com. “In both zone and off-man coverages, he’s NFL-ready to contribute immediately as a third corner or nickel back, eventually working his way into a full-time role.”
Contrary to that belief, Jackson will be a project, just like many players drafted out of the FCS. So, I won’t go as far as to say that Jackson could start off being an every down cornerback. However, Jackson’s quickness, agility and nose for the ball are second to none. He has a knack for making big plays, and has the unique ability for stepping up when his team needs him most.
That alone will buy him some playing time, most likely — as O’Brien wrote — as a nickel or dime back.
From there, it’s really up to him.