NFL draft profile: No. 40 – USC CB Adoree' Jackson, elite returner with coverage skills

USC CB-KR-WR Adoree’ Jackson
5-foot-10, 186 pounds

Key stat: Scored touchdowns in four ways in college — as wide receiver (six), kick returner (four), punt returner (two) and off interceptions (one) — and contributed as a runner on offense.

USC’s Adoree’ Jackson has elite returning ability and has improved as a corner. (AP)
USC’s Adoree’ Jackson has elite returning ability and has improved as a corner. (AP)

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The skinny: Elite multi-sport prep standout who grew up playing soccer and once boasted he could be a Matthew Dellavedova-esque defensive stopper for the Trojans’ basketball team if he had the time. But Jackson split his focus at USC with football and track, and tried to make the U.S. Olympic track team. Nicknamed “Superman,” Jackson twice won the Pac-12 long jump title and finished fifth in the NCAAs in both 2015 and 2016. He also ran relays and competed in indoor and outdoor events.

As a football player at Troy, Jackson has been equally as diverse, even starting at both cornerback and wide receiver as a true freshman against Notre Dame. Over his three-year career, Jackson caught 44 passes for 603 yards(13.7 average) and five TDs. He also returned 79 kickoffs for 2,141 yards (27.1 average) and four TDs and 46 punts for 578 yards (12.6 average) and four TDs. Jackson also started the majority of his games at corner, intercepting six passes (five of them in 2016) for 67 return yards and a 46-yard TD return. The Trojans used him far less on offense in 2016, and his defensive performance improved.

Jackson, who turns 22 early next season, declared early for the 2017 NFL draft.

Best-suited destination: Teams that need a shot in the arm on their return units — such as the Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and others — could find a spot where Jackson should contribute immediately.

Jackson’s lack of size might limit him to nickel duty for some teams, but plenty of them still need CB help. We could see the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and others viewing Jackson as a potential fit.

Plus, any team willing to let a special athlete moonlight on offense — and there are not many of those teams, frankly — could find creative ways to get the ball in Jackson’s hands.

Upside: Game-changer with the ball in his hands who can flip the field in a heartbeat with a return. Flip on the 2016 Notre Dame game at almost any point (an incredible 97-yard kickoff return, 55-yard punt return TD, 52-yard TD catch, several big plays on defense) to see how he can affect games. Ball production on defense took a big spike in 2016, and Jackson showed skills that he had not previously. Also, his man-coverage feel looked far more natural; it appeared that Jackson benefited greatly from the tutoring of secondary coach Ronnie Bradford, a former defensive back who arrived on the coaching staff in early 2016. Closes fast even if he gives receivers space. Loose hips and ankles. Seems to have requisite alpha-dog mentality for the position to take on tough challenges. Reliable tackling ability (see Stanford game).

Downside: Small frame with little room to grow. Short arms and average-sized hands. For all his athletic gifts, Jackson’s NFL scouting combine testing was good but hardly amazing; he spoke of broad-jumping 12 feet but barely cleared 10, a middling number by DB standards. Instincts might not be honed for lots of zone responsibility. Can be manipulated by quarterbacks’ eyes in zone. Could be limited to off-man coverage. Needs more work as slot corner, where he’ll need to diagnose routes and flip his hips on a dime. Bigger receivers can body him up without issue. Roasted twice for TDs in Rose Bowl by Penn State’s Chris Godwin.

Scouting hot take: “I’d love to work with him. You could see him get better in coverage and just look more natural. They spread him too thin, and the less he played on offense the better he was. Give him time.” — NFL defensive backs coach

Player comp: A cross between Adam Jones and Micah Hyde

Expected draft range: Top 40 pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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