If the Chicago Bears are going to have any chance of competing in the NFC North in 2018, they'll need extraordinary play from the secondary.
One of the most important pieces in the defensive backfield is second-year safety Eddie Jackson, who after joining the Bears as a fourth-round pick in 2017, is on the cusp of league-wide recognition as one of the best at his position.
Jackson wasn't supposed to start as a rookie last year. He was coming off an injury-plagued final season at Alabama and was viewed as a classic day-three pick with upside. Then came training camp.
It quickly became apparent that Jackson was one of Chicago's most talented defenders and he earned an opening-day starting job. He turned in a phenomenal rookie year that ended with 16 starts, 70 tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. Jackson brought that missing playmaking element back to the secondary.
Still, Jackson has room to improve in 2018. His 77.1 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked 53rd among safeties last season. He gave Bears fans their first taste of timely turnovers since Mike Brown's departure in 2008, but it wasn't a perfect year. Jackson has to take another step in his development for Chicago's defense to become, potentially, an elite unit.
Jackson is an even more important variable than Adrian Amos, who ranked as the second-best safety in the league last year by PFF. Amos is more of a thumper. He excels against the run. But the best defenses create turnovers, and that's where Jackson can be truly special. He's a legitimate center fielder with great range and the physical makeup (length) needed to become a perennial Pro Bowler.
If Jackson becomes that guy for the Bears in 2018, the sky's the limit for Vic Fangio's defense.