The Washington Football Team's defense added yet another playmaker with the signing of cornerback William Jackson III on Friday.
A first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jackson started 48 games over his first four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, recording three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 41 passes defensed and 150 total tackles. Entering free agency, Pro Football Focus ranked Jackson as the No. 1 cornerback and 16th-best player available.
Here are five things to know about the newest member of Washington's secondary:
1. Jackson and fellow NFL CB Xavien Howard were high school teammates.
Long before Jackson became the Bengals' top option, he wasn't even the best cornerback on his team at Wheatley High School in Houston. But it is hard to blame him; after all, his running mate was reigning first team All-Pro Xavien Howard.
"That was amazing," Howard told the Miami Herald in 2018 about playing with Jackson. "We used to push each other every day."
Offensively, Howard played quarterback while Jackson lined up at receiver, and together they led Wheatley to the area finals in 2011. Over his final two seasons, Jackson hauled in 35 receptions for 626 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Jackson also earned first-team All-District honors at defensive back both years, but academic problems early in his high school career kept programs from offering football scholarships. "I was kind of a knucklehead in high school," Jackson said at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2016.
That led to him attending Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, although it wasn't long before the lanky, speedy Jackson flashed his potential at the Division I level.
2. Jackson starred for his home-state school before showing out at the NFL Combine.
After a year of junior college, a humbler Jackson committed to the University of Houston and played three seasons for the Cougars.
He finished his career with 40 pass breakups and eight interceptions, more than half of which came in 2015 when he led the NCAA in pass breakups (23) and had five picks. And if the nation didn't know about Jackson by then, it found out when he recorded 10 tackles, broke up two passes and grabbed two interceptions in the Cougars' 38-24 win over Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. With Jackson earning MVP honors, Houston capped one of its best seasons in program history.
Jackson was already on NFL scouts' radar entering the combine thanks of his ideal frame (6-foot, 189 pounds) and college productivity, but his stock rose to another level after he ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.37 seconds. All of the sudden, the former two-star recruit was seen as a first-round draft prospect.
"William's long and his wingspan allows him to be very physical in press coverage," then Houston coach Tom Herman told the Houston Chronicle in 2016. "He probably needs to put on 10 pounds of muscle, but he's not shy about throwing his body around. He's a very aggressive, competitive dude. He can catch the ball well. He's very good mentally at refocusing. He's a really good kid. Once he learns a new technique or assignment, he doesn't bust it."
3. Jackson played like an All-Pro during his first full NFL season.
During training camp in 2016, Jackson competed against Darqueze Dennard to be the Bengals' third cornerback. Then, in a flash, his rookie season was over. He suffered a torn pectoral muscle, which resulted in surgery and landed him on Injured Reserve prior to Week 1. As other first-round picks aimed to validated their draft status, all Jackson could focus on was his rehab.
Jackson turned out to be worth the wait, as he dominated as soon as he stepped onto the field. He broke up his first pass in his NFL debut, then corralled his first interception two weeks later against Aaron Rodgers. And once the ball was in his hands, he was off to the races for a 75-yard touchdown, making him just the second player in NFL history to return a Rodgers interception for a score.
Despite starting just five games, Jackson finished tied for the team lead with 14 passes defensed to go along with 27 tackles (21 solo) and a sack. Those statistics helped him earn a PFF grade of 90.2 -- the sixth-best defensive grade for a cornerback in a second season since 2011.
Jackson has yet to earn that distinction or even a Pro Bowl nod, but he was still the Bengals' No. 1 corner by using his length, physicality and speed to disrupt opposing receivers. He'll bring the same skillset to Washington, where he'll likely play opposite Kendall Fuller following the departure of Ronald Darby in free agency.
4. Jackson is joining by far the best defense of his career.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio often emphasizes the importance of the pass rush and coverage needing to work together to succeed. Based on what Washington has up front, Jackson should have plenty of opportunities to make plays behind them.
The Bengals never finished in the top half of the NFL in total defense or scoring defense in the five seasons Jackson was there. Now he'll join a unit that finished second and fourth in those categories, respectively, in 2020. He should also be able to play even more aggressive knowing the quarterback will have to get rid of the ball quickly, which should help him build upon his three career interceptions.
"It's just a blessing to have that front, man," Jackson told the local media Friday. "We have a lot of great guys up front, so the quarterback is not going to have a lot of time to throw the ball."
5. Jackson is a pig-owning, horseback-riding addition to Washington's roster.
Jackson said his grandmother's house is "in the middle of the city" in the Fifth Ward of Houston. That's also where he keeps his five horses and pet pig, Annabelle.
"It's just something that just happened," Jackson said of Annabelle. "Just wanted something different, and she just popped up into my lap I guess."
As Jackson prepares for his first season in the nation's capital, Annabelle will remain in his grandmother's backyard in Texas. "I would be excited for her to [come to Washington], but right now we're going to keep her back home...and just let her run around a little bit and be an animal. I think we make her be a pet too much."
But when Jackson does have free time, there's a good chance he will spend it horseback riding. It is a passion he developed during his childhood with his grandmother, and a hobby he will continue as he settles into his new home.
"People still can't believe that about me and riding horses, based on where I grew up," Jackson told the Houston Chronicle at the beginning of March. "It's just something I always loved doing."