Six games in, and the San Francisco 49ers are proving they avoided disaster with one notable decision.
Jackson has Look of Being Overvalued
Jackson has looked nothing like the cornerback who commanded a high price during 2022 free agency or a CB who earned his first Pro Bowl appearance last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Los Angeles Charger Jackson has the second worst grade among eligible cornerbacks with a 29.6 grade. He’s yet to snatch an interception and has just one pass defensed.
Furthermore, Jackson recently surrendered three catches for 108 yards on October 2 in the 34-24 victory against the Houston Texans…who have no Pro Bowl wideouts on their roster.
His production has dipped so badly that his own head coach Brandon Staley, who’s a known defensive guru, made the decision to bench him in the second half of the Chargers’ 19-16 overtime win over the Denver Broncos on Monday, October 17. He was replaced by Michael Davis, who only has six NFL starts per Pro Football Reference.
“I thought Mike gave us a chance in the second half,” Staley said postgame regarding the decision. “Liked the way he played. Was really proud of him. Proud of his teammates for helping him along with his coaches.”
But regarding Jackson, Staley explained “Just wasn’t good enough in the first half and we felt like we needed to make the change.”
Jackson himself said he felt defeated after his benching. And, Jackson has witnessed a drastic change in this significant stat:
49ers Once Showed ‘Legitimate Interest’
Before the March 16 free agency period for the 2022 cycle, the 49ers were among the teams expressing “legitimate interest” in the former New England Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback.
Jackson, at the time, did enough to ignite intrigue for teams needing a cornerback including the 49ers. After all, he snatched eight interceptions in 2021 which led all AFC defenders. He was also tops in passes defensed in 23. He became the latest star cornerback creation under Super Bowl winning head coach Bill Belichick — who once coached future Hall of Famer Ty Law, produced an NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner in Stephon Gilmore and thrived with Jackson.
The 49ers found themselves seeking out a CB after watching Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham collaborate for 255 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Los Angeles Rams‘ NFC title game win over the Niners. And the thought of Jackson heading to a defense that already featured two All-Pros in Fred Warner and Nick Bosa plus had a stacked defensive line looked like a match made in NFL heaven. Yet even then, the warning sign was there that the 49ers would have a hard time signing Jackson.
Jackson ended up taking the money with the Chargers. He found his own situation that featured two All-Pros in Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack plus two-time Pro Bowl safety Derwin James next to him. The 49ers eventually settled for Ward for nearly half the asking price. It’s still early, but the 49ers are looking more like the winner here.
Ward’s 2022 Production Compared to Jackson
Ward got forced to leave early with a groin injury in the Week 6 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. But minus the injury, Ward has put together one of his best seasons to date.
Per PFR Advanced Stats, Ward has surrendered no more than 49 receiving yards his side this season. He trailed only Trevon Diggs in passes defensed with eight before the Falcons game.
Two of his breakups came in the end zone against the Panthers and the Rams — the latter having him matched with the taller Allen Robinson. Lastly, quarterbacks have a 52.4 completion percentage when facing Ward. Jackson is at 53.6%.
Despite the struggles, Staley isn’t ready to keep Jackson on the sidelines.
“There’s a reason why we went and got this guy, because we believe in him,” Staley said via the L.A. Times on Wednesday. “Just because it hasn’t started, you know, in a Hollywood fashion doesn’t mean it’s not going to end that way.”
Still, through the first six games, the 49ers are looking more like they made the best investment at cornerback.