As a primarily defensive player with special teams flavor, the best examples to strive to emulate were Michigan Heisman winner Charles Woodson and LSU Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu.
With comparable production already, there was one big area for Jackson to elevate his game into Heisman level — impact via turnovers.
Woodson had eight interceptions during his Heisman season while Mathieu forced six fumbled. Coming into the season, Jackson had nabbed just one interception in his career.
Jackson answered that call this season with four interceptions on the year, while also taking his production as a special teams player to a whole new level.
First, here’s the quick comparison:
Sep 23, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; USC Trojans defensive back Adoree’ Jackson (2) reacts after returning a kickoff for touchdown against the Utah Utes during the first half a NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah won 31-27, Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Woodson’s 1997 numbers included 44 tackles, five tackles for loss, nine pass break ups, and eight interceptions.
On offense, he caught 12 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
On special teams, he had 36 punt returns for 301 yards, for an average of 8.4 yards per return and one touchdown.
Jackson’s 2016 numbers include 51 tackles, two tackles for loss, 11 pass break ups and four interceptions.
On offense he caught one pass for a 52-yard touchdown and gained 49 yards on five carries with a 9.8 yards per carry average.
On special teams, he had 19 punt returns for 302 yards, for an average of 15.89 yards per return and two touchdowns.
He also had 22 kickoff returns for 671 yards with an average of 30.5 yards per return and two touchdowns.
Logging comparable stats to a Heisman winner doesn’t make Jackson Heisman-worthy, but it is a good platform to start talking about his qualifications.
Woodson was an impact player for Michigan, and Jackson has been an impact player for USC all season.
Looking at Jackson’s Heisman possibility based on the examination of Woodson and Mathieu over the summer, we came to the conclusion that moments are more important than stats when it comes to defensive and special teams contenders.
Jackson has produced big moments for the Trojans since Week 1.
In fact, the one positive from USC’s blowout loss to Alabama was No. 2, chasing down Tide runners from behind, not once, but twice, to prevent long touchdowns.
Win or lose, big game or small, Jackson’s performances have not slipped in 2016.
It’s all well and good to pad stats against the cannon fodder of the league, but Jackson’s best performances have come in USC’s most challenging games.
Jackson returned a kick 100 yards for USC’s opening score against No. 20 Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
All four of the cornerback’s interceptions came against ranked teams — two on the road to help the Trojans upset No. 4 Washington, another on the road at No. 18 Stanford and finally, the most jaw-dropping interception of the year against No. 8 Colorado at the Coliseum when he somehow managed to do the splits in midair, tapping his toe in bounds with most of his body hovering out of bounds.
That interception epitomizes Jackson’s junior campaign — outstanding performances and spectacular moments. Isn’t that what a Heisman campaign is made of?
Jackson averaged 21.5 yards per touch this year — that’s not an inflated number either. Just about every time Jackson got hold of the ball this year, something magical happened.
He scooped up a fumble at Arizona and returned it 26-yards down the sideline to set up a Trojan touchdown. He picked up first downs on three of his four rushing attempts, speeding by and cutting through defenses. He gashed Utah State on a punt return that had him running backwards to field the bouncing ball before turning up field and taking it to the house.
Even when he wasn’t scoring on returns he made an impact, ranking second nationally with five punt returns of 20 or more yards. Meanwhile, a more than a quarter of his kickoff returns went 30 yards or more — the best rate in the Pac-12.