UDFA Analysis: Buddy Jackson

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 25: Tavon Austin #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers is upended and tackled by Buddy Jackson #21 of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers during the 2011 Backyard Brawl on November 25, 2011 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

This series focuses on several Colts undrafted free agents, analyzing how good of a chance they have to make the final roster and how much they can contribute to the team. The series began with defensive lineman Chigbo Anunoby, and now focuses on cornerback Buddy Jackson.

If you're looking toward Buddy Jackson as someone who could fill a void in the Colts secondary this season, let me spoil your hopes early. It's not going to happen.

While Jackson may have been a player the late Al Davis would have fallen head over heels for, boasting impressive physical characteristics and workout numbers, he has several detractors that indicate he won't make an easy transition into NFL defenses.

His most glaring weakness is his experience.

In his five-year career at Pittsburgh (one as a redshirt), Jackson started a grand total of one game.

That's not the most encouraging thing to read when the Colts desperately need help at cornerback this season. The coaching staff has admitted as much with their frantic attempts to swing a trade with the Cowboys for Mike Jenkins.

However, that doesn't mean that Jackson might as well pack up his things and head for the door before training camp even gets underway.

There's a reason that GM Ryan Grigson brought him in as an undrafted free agent, and I don't think it has anything to do with his defensive potential.

Instead, it has to do with his special teams abilities.

Special teams is an area that often gets overlooked in the offseason by Colts fans. For this offseason especially, the conversations here have centered more around the transitioning defense and new weapons on offense rather than how the team can finally field quality special teams players.

In case you needed a reminder, the Colts hit absolute rock bottom on special teams last season.

  • 32nd in average kickoff return yards - 18.6
  • 32nd in returns that went past the 20-yard line - 11
  • 32nd in average punt return yards - 3.4
  • 32nd in average yards allowed on kickoff returns - 30.7
  • 19th in average yards allowed on punt returns - 11.5
Ugh. That's painful to read.

And the worst part is that Colts fans have had to deal with these kinds of stats year after year after year from special teams.

So with a new coaching staff and front office, could 2012 finally be the end of that trend? If Jackson is going to make the Colts final roster, he'll have to prove that he can be one of the players to help do just that.

With that in mind, let's dive into a few scouting reports on Jackson to see what kind of player he can be this season, starting with a report from his Pittsburgh Pro Day.

NFL scouts may have attended the University ofPittsburgh Pro Day to see offensive guard Lucas Nix, defensive tackle Chas Alecxih, cornerback Antwuan Reed or pass rusher Brandon Lindsey -- each of whom participated at the Combine. And while several Pitt Panthers posted impressive results, it was another cornerback --Buddy Jackson-- whose spectacular speed and leaping ability stole the show.

Jackson, who started only one game and never recorded an interception in four seasons with the Panthers, turned in a workout that would have ranked among the elite recorded at the Combine this year.

Jackson was clocked in the low 4.3s in the 40-yard dash. Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson was "officially" recorded at 4.35 seconds, the fastest among the 325+ prospects invited to participate in Indianapolis this year. Jackson also posted an 11-9" broad jump. By comparison, the top performance at the 2012 Combine was 11 feet, one inch which was accomplished by Robinson and Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.

Jackson, listed by Pitt at 6-1, 180 pounds, had primarily seen his playing time come on special teams throughout his career. He led the Panthers with 543 kick return yards in 2011 (on 23 attempts). He averaged 23.6 yards per return and took one 98 yards for a touchdown against Utah. He posted career highs in every other category as a senior as well, recording 34 tackles, four passes broken up and recovering a fumble while seeing action in nickel and dime packages and on punt and kickoff coverage units.

Considering his size, athleticism and ability on special teams, Jackson's workout may be enough to get him drafted outright. It certainly will be enough to entice some club into giving him an opportunity should he not get drafted. Jackson is currently NFLDraftScout.com's 54th ranked cornerback prospect.

Speed has been a trend in the Grigson era so far, and Jackson seems to be a part of it. To exceed or match some of the top scores at the Combine is impressive work. At the least, it shows that Jackson has some terrific athletic ability .

Jackson's size also stands out. I still have nightmares about the 5'8 Tim Jennings covering Randy Moss back in 2007, so seeing a Colts cornerback listed at 6'1 is more than refreshing. Jackson is already tied with several safeties and second-year cornerback Chris Rucker as the tallest player in the secondary.

While I already mentioned that Jackson didn't have a great deal of experience at cornerback at Pittsburgh with only one start and zero career interceptions, it's encouraging to see that he posted his best numbers of his career last season with playing in nickel and dime packages.

His kickoff return abilities stand out with a decent average of 23.6 yards per return. Since Jackson played on both kickoff and punt coverage units, I'm interested to see how sure of a tackler he is and if he has the skills necessary to be a good special teams player.

Let's move on to another scouting report to investigate.

Raw, inexperienced cornerback who was not a starter, but has NFL-caliber size, speed and athletic ability to contribute on special teams, where he has experience as a "gunner," jammer and return man. Is long-levered and wiry - needs to get stronger - and will have to prove he has the flexibility and toughness to carve a niche.
Jackson's weight of 180 pounds speaks to his need to bulk up. In comparison, Rucker checks in at 209 pounds at the same height. I believe Jackson will be need to build more onto his frame if he's going to stay healthy in the NFL and thrive on special teams.

The ability to play as a gunner is an underrated skill in my mind. The Colts haven't had very many good ones in a while, and it's one of the reasons they tend to rank so low on punt coverage. If Jackson carves out a niche as a skilled gunner during training camp and the preseason, that could be his ticket toward winning a roster spot. With Karim, Vaughn and T.Y. Hilton already in the mix to compete for the job as kickoff returner, Jackson has a better chance of flashing his talents on the coverage units.

Final Analysis

Regardless of how good of a player Jackson is, he's already in one of the best positions to make the roster among the group of undrafted free agents.

Jerraud Powers is really the only cornerback who is guaranteed a roster spot at this point. Between players like Kevin Thomas, Terrance Johnson, Chris Rucker and Cassius Vaughn, can anyone say with 100 percent certainty that any of them will make the roster?

I can't. And I can't think of another position with that much unpredictability.

Therefore, just by the nature of Jackson's position, he has a better chance of making the team than many of the undrafted free agents, even if I still don't expect him to contribute much as a cornerback if he does make it. I still believe the defensive transition will be too steep for him in the beginning of his career.

However, as I said in this article, Jackson won't win a spot based on his cornerback skills. He'll have to display his NFL-caliber size and speed on special teams and prove he is a versatile athlete in order to stick around.

If Jackson is able to accomplish all of this in the next few months, I think he will at least make the practice squad and make a case to be elevated onto the active roster during the season.

UPDATE: Since some were asking in the comments if Jackson's insane 11'9 broad jump was for real, I thought I would tack on his Pro Day video to prove it. Skip ahead to 1:22 if you want to see it. And trust me, you do want to see this.


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