JC Jackson covered for him in Brandon Staley’s Chargers defense

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Only one player has been guaranteed more money in free agency this offseason than the Chargers promised JC Jackson.

And Von Miller is a three-time All-Pro edge rusher who was selected to eight Pro Bowls.

That’s how important Jackson was to coaching Brandon Staley’s plans heading into 2022.

“The more cover players you have, the more cover variety you can play,” Staley explained. “That’s definitely what we were looking for, someone with his coverage ability against No. 1 receivers.”

Staley and the Chargers secured their man last week with a five-year contract that guarantees Jackson $40 million and is worth up to $82.5 million.

During his introductory press conference on Tuesday, Jackson said his relationship with safety Derwin James, a fellow Florida native, helped attract him to the Chargers. He also cited the Chargers’ status as “a young team, a rising team”.

What Jackson brings is the chance for Staley to play a defensive style more to his liking, one the Chargers haven’t been able to showcase consistently in 2021 given their personnel.

Too often last season, the secondary struggled to stay tight in their coverage, that inability helping lead the NFL’s worst defense on third down; opponents converted almost half (49.5%) of the time.

The Chargers use what’s called the “pattern-matching zone,” which means they frequently line up in what appears to be a zone before dropping into coverage that looks more like a man.

Having a player with Jackson’s man-to-man prowess will allow the defense to be more dynamic and varied.

“With a guy like him, it gives you a lot more depth in your secondary,” Staley said. “It gives you a lot more cover against premium overrun attacks.”

Jackson will play on the outside, giving the Chargers the opportunity to move Asante Samuel Jr. into the subset slot with Michael Davis playing the other outside position.

It’s worth noting, though, that Staley has talked a lot this offseason about never having enough defensive backs, which means the Chargers could still add to the squad.

With Jackson, the Chargers should be able to avoid playing the kind of zone patterns that Staley says can cripple a defense at critical moments.

“When you’re playing in the zone, there’s more air in the coverage for them to take advantage of the staggered schedules,” he said. “So when you have good cover players you can stay connected longer in the down, and that’s a better place to be.”

Jackson, 26, who spent the first four years of his career with New England, has 25 interceptions in 62 games. He had 17 caps over the past two seasons. He just made his first Pro Bowl.

Staley said adding Jackson “will allow us to really become a much more complete defense.” Notably, he said something very similar after the Chargers traded this month for rusher Khalil Mack.

Staley explained that what sets Jackson apart from most other corners in the NFL is his ability to line up with the best wide receivers game after game.

“He’s one of the few players in the league to travel with No. 1 receivers,” Staley said. “If you look [Amari] Cooper, [CeeDee] Lamb, you’re looking at Mike Evans, [Stefon] Diggs… he follows these guys. So you don’t just see it covering. You see it covering the premium guys.

“That’s it. Then it’s ball judging and ball skills. In the deep end of the court, this guy can turn you around. … He’s got that style of play that we’re looking for. He’s got that type of tenacity, bright lights, he’s up for it.

Davonte Adams is a No. 1 receiver that Jackson will now see twice per season. All-Pro for the past two years, Adams was traded to Las Vegas last week after eight seasons with Green Bay.

Asked about the challenge of facing Adams and the Raiders, Jackson said, “They better be ready for us. I don’t want to talk about him. They better be ready for us.

CJ at Riverside

Jackson was born and raised in Florida before spending most of his college career in Maryland. But the Chargers won’t be his first team in Southern California.

He played one season at Riverside City College after being fired from the University of Florida following legal issues in his freshman year.

“Those were probably my darkest times…” Jackson recalled Tuesday. “Guys who have been through juco, they know what juco life is all about.”

Jackson admitted he had thought about quitting, explaining that his motivation for continuing was a simple desire to improve his situation.

“You really have to start at the bottom and show how badly you really want it,” he said. “There were days when I was like, ‘I’m not going to school. I’m not going to practice. ”

Now, only three cornerbacks league-wide have contracts of greater potential value than Jackson.

From undrafted to one of the best around, Jackson said he’s ready for his next chapter, the one he predicted weeks ago.

“I was like, agent, ‘We’re going to LA,'” Jackson said. “I told him from the start.”

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