It seemed all but certain that the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to get their man in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, addressing a major need on the defensive side of the football in the secondary.
Instead, the Cincinnati Bengals struck quickly one spot ahead of the Steelers, grabbing University of Houston cornerback William Jackson III — an intriguing blend of size, speed and man-coverage abilities — right out from under the Steelers, eventually forcing the Steelers to pivot and select Artie Burns No. 25 overall.
Of course, that didn’t work out. The Steelers never lost sight of Jackson III though, watching him play at a high level in Cincinnati for five years before struggling the last year and a half with the Washington Commanders. That led to a trade deadline day trade Tuesday between the Steelers and the Commanders for a swap of late-round picks in 2025.
In the end, the Steelers always get their man, even if it’s six years later and Jackson is 30 years old.
Now, they’re hoping that Jackson can return to that high level of play he displayed in Cincinnati, especially in 2018, which happened to be under the watchful eye of current Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Coming off of a back injury and overall struggles in a scheme that wasn’t a great fit for him, Jackson is aiming to prove he’s still a high-level cornerback, one that still has that 4.37 speed he clocked at the 2016 NFL Combine, which led to him ultimately being selected in the first round.
“Oh, that never leaves. That never leaves. I’ve always been a fast guy all my life,” Jackson stated to reporters Wednesday following his first practice with the team, according to video via Steelers.com. “But, you know, slow guys can look fast with technique. So, it’s all about their technique in this league, and that’s what I gotta work on.”
Throughout his career, Jackson has been good overall in press man coverage, and has the height, length and overall speed to carry receivers vertically and challenge bigger receivers at the catch point.
Where he’s struggled in recent seasons is in off-man coverage or in zone coverage, where his footwork becomes a bit of a mess and he finds himself guessing more often than he should be. That’s led to some major struggles, which ultimately led to the Commanders ending the partnership with the veteran cornerback.
If Jackson can get over the back injury that has hampered him since Week 5 and can get comfortable playing in a man coverage scheme once again under Austin’s guidance, the Steelers might have found themselves a relatively affordable answer to an issue that’s plagued the team all season long.