While one part-time defensive back will sit among the finalists for college football’s Heisman Trophy on Saturday and find out where he finishes in the voting, one full-time defensive back who does spot duty in other areas claimed what is usually the biggest prize available to DBs on the NCAA level.
USC junior cornerback Adoree Jackson won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back, at Thursday’s College Football Awards show.
Jackson beat out fellow finalists Tre’Davious White of LSU and Jourdan Lewis of Michigan, both senior cornerbacks.
Lewis is a teammate of Wolverines sophomore Jabrill Peppers, the aforementioned part-time DB who’s up for the Heisman. Peppers, who played mostly safety as a freshman, turned into college football’s most versatile player as a sophomore. He was primarily a linebacker this season, but also spent time at running back, kick returner, defensive back and quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
Peppers is one of five Heisman finalists. If he wins, he will be the second (primarily) defensive player to win the trophy. The first was another Michigan man; the great Charles Woodson, who played corner, receiver and kick returner for the Wolverines and won the 1997 Heisman before going on to a Hall of Fame NFL career.
USC’s Jackson is actually a better example than Peppers of a modern-day Woodson.
As a cornerback, Jackson made 51 tackles this season along with four interceptions, 11 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. As a receiver, he caught one pass — a 52-yard touchdown against Notre Dame. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry on five rushing attempts. On special teams, he averaged 15.9 yards per punt return and scored two touchdowns, and averaged 30.5 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns.
Oh, and during the spring and summer months, Jackson competed in track and field: Winning the Pac-12 long jump title, finishing fifth in the event at NCAA nationals, and finishing 10th at the U.S. Olympic trials. His season’s best jump measured 7.89 meters, or more than 25 feet, 10 inches.
Jackson had two particularly standout games during his junior football season:
In an upset win on the road over national title playoff participant Washington, Jackson had two interceptions against UW’s extremely accurate QB Jake Browning.
In a win over Notre Dame at home, Jackson scored three touchdowns: a 52-yard reception, a 55-yard punt return and a 97-yard kickoff return. He also broke up two passes and made two tackles.
Jackson helped the Trojans compile a 9-3 record and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl against Penn State.
The Thorpe award wasn’t the only one Jackson picked up this season. He was voted an All-American by several outlets. He was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He is one of four finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
Jackson is the second player from USC to win the Thorpe Award. The first was safety Mark Carrier in 1989. Carrier went on to be the 6th overall pick in the NFL Draft and had Pro Bowl career with the Bears, Lions and Washington. Jackson is projected to be a first-round pick if he goes pro.
USA Today and the Walter Camp Football Foundation are two of many organizations that have announced their 2016 All-American teams this week.
Some of the defensive backs named to various All-American teams include Jackson, Lewis, White, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington safety Budda Baker, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, Iowa cornerback Desmond King (the 2015 Thorpe Award winner) and Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley.