When one dives into the advanced metrics for defensive backs from 2019, they'll see prominent players atop the list.
Stephon Gilmore is up there, as is Tre'Davious White. But also near the very top is a lesser-known corner who might not remain as such for very long.
J.C. Jackson ranked second among all defensive backs in catch rate allowed above/below expectation at -10.1 percent, trailing only his teammate, Gilmore, in the important metric. When exploring the stats, it was a bit surprising to find Jackson there, ahead of the likes of White (ranked fourth) and Denzel Ward (seventh), the only other corners on the list after Jackson and Gilmore.
Not to Jackson, though.
"I mean, I'm not surprised," Jackson said, via MassLive.com. "I know what I can do. It is what it is, I guess. They just started to realize it, but I've been knowing what I can do to help this team."
Jackson saw fewer targets (58) than Gilmore (96) in 2019, and he'll usually face the lesser receiver of a duo thanks to Gilmore tending to match up with a team's best target, but that shouldn't diminish the contributions of the up-and-coming corner. His rise helped New England finally find a reliable No. 2 corner following the departures of both Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler in recent offseasons. And according to Jackson's coach, he's just getting started.
"J.C. continues to improve," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, again via MassLive.com. "I think his understanding of the defense and his ability to play different spots within the defense has grown, and that gives us some flexibility on a number of levels.
"He's had a good camp, been out there every day, he's taken a lot of reps, he's in good condition, his techniques and fundamentals are pretty good. So, he continues to make plays for us on the field and expand the things that he can do to provide, as I said, more versatility and for him to create either bigger or sometimes different roles for himself or for his teammates. He's done a good job for us."
With Gilmore returning as the NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Jackson should expect to see additional attention as teams avoid throwing in Gilmore's direction. New England is ready for such a reality, preparing Jackson to take on a variety of roles as Belichick mentioned, and has confidence Jackson will embrace the challenge. He's been preparing for this responsibility long before anyone paid attention to him.
"Each year is different," Jackson said. "No matter what the stats say from last season, each season you've got to prove yourself. You've got to earn a roster -- like Bill (Belichick) says, 'You've got to earn here. And I won't give you anything.' So, my stats from last year don't mean anything. I just come to work with my head down, and I just come in ready to work and get better."
There's only one position to improve upon in the most important Next Gen categories. But if Jackson takes the next step in his career in 2020, the Patriots could find themselves improving in a much more significant area: postseason victories, one of which they did not record in Jackson's breakout season.