Eddie Jackson has played in big games before. Two Iron Bowls, two SEC Championships, two College Football Playoff semifinals and a College Football Playoff final (which he won) are on his resume from four years at Alabama.
“That was college,” Jackson matter-of-factly said. “This is the NFL.”
Jackson is atop the Bears’ unofficial Week 1 depth chart and is in line to start in his regular season debut Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Watching Jackson during preseason play, it’s easy to forget 111 players were drafted before the Bears took him in the fourth round in April. His range and ball skills quickly translated to the NFL level and make him an intriguing part of a re-vamped secondary hoping to make more plays than last year’s group did (eight interceptions).
While plenty of preseason hype has centered around offensive players in Mitchell Trubisky and Tarik Cohen, Jackson is lined up for the biggest role of any Bears rookie this year.
“He’s just smart, man,” fellow safety Quintin Demps said. “He hasn’t had many (mental errors), and Vic Fangio’s defense is very, very difficult. For a rookie to come in and pick that up man. It just shows a lot about his IQ as a football player.”
Jackson’s football intelligence has been a frequent point of praise for the 6-foot, 201 pound safety. He described Fangio’s system as “complicated at times,” but Jackson adapted to a complex defense at Alabama that's helped him adjust to whatever Fangio's thrown at him over the last few months.
“I think for any rookie to come in and earn a starting position regardless of position I think, it speaks to that (intelligence),” coach John Fox said. “I think how hard they work, their work ethic, what their football acumen is, and how fast they adjust. I think Eddie has got a good background and obviously has a good football IQ. And that’s what enables guys to come in and learn and grasp and execute under pressure.”
Jackson nearly had an acrobatic one-handed interception against the Arizona Cardinals last month, settling for a pass break-up but showing those ball skills the Bears believe can immediately help the secondary. His first true test will come against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and a Falcons offense that ranked No. 1 in scoring last year (33.8 points per game), but the Bears are confident Jackson and his veteran counterpart can succeed when the snaps start mattering on Sunday.
“What we saw in the draft is his ball skills jump out right away, but he’s got natural instincts and anticipation,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “That’s something back there that we’ve been looking for a while now, and I think he pairs really well with Demps. We kinda got the savvy vet with Demps and the emerging rookie with Jackson. But you can just see him anticipate routes, break on things early and just have a great feel and natural instincts back there.
“Like this whole rookie class in general, it’s not too big for him. He plays with a confidence and swagger that’s refreshing to see in a young player.”