Jackson III hates how he looked for much of 2021 in Washington

William Jackson III

There are so many ways to quantify the performance of an NFL cornerback these days.

One can quickly check on how many interceptions and passes defensed the player is logging. Going a step further to check in on a quarterback's passer rating when targeting said corner is also useful. Then there are even more advanced metrics, such as a guy's PFF grade, the number of air yards he cedes on completions and an abundance of additional information to take in.

For William Jackson III, however, he measures his contributions based on something far simpler.

"I’m a guy that smiles," Jackson III told reporters after the Commanders' opening OTAs session on Tuesday. "If you see me smiling, then you know it’s a good day."

There was much to grin about for the ex-Bengal heading into his first season with Washington, namely the three-year contract he signed with the club in March 2021 that guaranteed him $26 million. That pact, plus the notoriety it came with and the well-perceived unit he was joining, were all excellent developments for Jackson III.

Then the games began.

Though Jackson III picked off a pass in his then-Football Team debut, the first half of his campaign was marred by sloppy coverage, penalties and a couple of missed starts due to injury.

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In all, the transition from Cincinnati's scheme — which was heavy on man-to-man assignments — to Washington's more zone-reliant system was as smooth as duct tape for Jackson III. On Tuesday, he admitted that he actually gets uncomfortable reviewing his year-old film.

"I hate watching early on, because I don’t even look like myself out there," he said. "But later on in the season, I started playing better and then started feeling like myself and it started showing on the field."

That improvement, he believes, commenced after the bye against the Buccaneers and continued until he was sidelined once again in Week 16 (he'd go on to miss Weeks 17 and 18, too). During that stretch, he turned Tom Brady over, was flagged less (to be fair, he was penalized at a ridiculous rate pre-bye) and ably pitched in on a more cohesive effort by the secondary.

Unsurprisingly, Jackson III shared on Tuesday that he's confident the better play — both his own and that of his fellow cornerbacks and safeties — will resume in 2022. Any other kind of declaration in May would be shocking.

Now, to his credit, he did deploy solid logic to support his stance. First, he focused on the reason for his individual optimism.

"Obviously, the zone was foreign to me early on," he said. "Now I feel comfortable."

Basic, sure, but also completely reasonable. For a pro as highly-compensated as Jackson III is and for how many coaches there are on Washington's staff, he would've ideally locked receivers down from the first whistle regardless of the style he was being asked to follow. Unfortunately, he needed a couple of months to adapt.

As for the collective defensive backfield, Jackson III is grateful that the era of meeting over Zoom is over, meaning he and his peers can be in contact with each other for live action as well as in their personal time (bowling and golf are a few go-to activities for the group). Perhaps most vital is the fact that he, Kendall Fuller, Bobby McCain and Kam Curl plus other depth pieces are all back for another campaign and, hopefully, less adjusting.

"It’s going to help us big time because we’re all familiar with each other," Jackson III said. "We did a lot of things off the field that we didn’t do previous. We all feel comfortable with each other, we’re out there talking, we’re laughing, we’re having fun. We know where everybody’s going to be and that’s the most important thing when you’re playing defense."

The period to grade Jackson III's spring assessments is still far off in the distance; Tuesday's press conference was merely filled with words.

Should those words come through, though — if he, the secondary and the defense as a whole deliver more satisfying results in 2022 — they'll give way to more smiles from Jackson III. For him, those will tell the whole story.