The Chicago Bears had a renaissance season in 2018, finishing 12-4 under first-year head coach Matt Nagy. A major reason for that success was the Bears' dominant defense, who finished as our highest-graded defensive unit while also surrendering a league-low 17.7 points per game during the regular season. On a defense littered with playmakers, it was second-year safety Eddie Jackson who led the team in overall grade (93.2). Jackson’s breakout season landed himself a spot on the 2018 PFF NFL All-Pro Team, and he also produced the best single-game performance by a safety during Week 3, in which he finished with an overall grade of 95.2.
Jackson’s improvement from his rookie campaign was a huge boost for the Bears defense. After using their fourth-round pick of the 2017 draft to select Jackson, the team thrust him into a starting role for all 16 games. The immediate playing time wasn’t met without growing pains, however, as he was only able to manage an overall grade of 68.3 while allowing a passer rating of 107.8 when targeted. Fortunately for Chicago, year two was a different story, as the playing time paid off and Jackson’s overall grade improved by 24.9 points in 2018.
Jackson’s Week 3 performance against the Arizona Cardinals was the statement game that let the rest of the league know he had arrived. That stat sheet was impressive against both the run and pass, as Jackson finished with three total tackles, two stops, and one interception while only allowing just one catch for three yards. His third-quarter interception was the play that really put his coverage skills on display and helped swing momentum in the Bears favor. Lined up deep at safety, Jackson covered a tremendous amount of ground to intercept Sam Bradford’s pass attempt down the left side of the field intended for J.J. Nelson.
Jackson finished the game with a 93.6 coverage grade on 33 pass snaps while only seeing the two targets into his coverage. Led by Jackson, the Bears secondary played a huge role in their 16-14 victory as Cardinals quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen both finished with passing grades under 45.0 in 29 combined dropbacks.
This outstanding Week 3 show would be the first of many for the Bears’ young safety, as Jackson managed to earn a single-game coverage grade above 90.0 four times throughout the regular season. Jackson’s impressive range in the secondary made it a terrible matchup on opposing quarterbacks, who were only able to muster a 54.9 passer rating on balls thrown Jackson's way. In 14 total games played, he led all safeties with eight pass-breakups while finishing second with six interceptions. There aren’t many safeties like Jackson in the NFL, and the Bears have to be thrilled about the return on investment they see from their former fourth-round pick.