J.C. Jackson has it covered when Brandon Staley pictures his new Chargers defense

Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) defends Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) in December.
J.C. Jackson’s ability to defend No. 1 receivers such as Bills wideout Stefon Diggs (14) is what makes the cornerback so valuable, said Chargers coach Brandon Staley.
(Stew Milne / Associated Press)

Only one player has been guaranteed more money in free agency this offseason than the Chargers pledged to J.C. Jackson.

And Von Miller is a three-time All-Pro edge rusher who has been selected to eight Pro Bowls.

That’s how important Jackson was to coach Brandon Staley’s plans entering 2022.


“The more coverage players you have the more variety of coverages you can play,” Staley explained. “That’s certainly what we were looking for, somebody with his coverage ability against No. 1 receivers.”

Staley and the Chargers secured their man last week with a five-year contract that guarantees Jackson $40 million and is worth up to $82.5 million.

Tight end Gerald Everett, a former Rams draft pick who spent last season with the Seattle Seahawks, is joining the Justin Herbert-led Chargers offense.

During his introductory news conference Tuesday, Jackson said his relationship with safety Derwin James, a fellow Floridian, helped lure him to the Chargers. He also cited the Chargers’ status as “a young team, up-and-coming team.”

What Jackson brings is the chance for Staley to play a defensive style more to his liking, a style the Chargers were unable to exhibit consistently in 2021 given their personnel.

Too often last season the secondary struggled to stay tight in coverage, that inability helping lead the NFL’s worst defense on third down; opponents converted nearly half (49.5%) of the time.

The Chargers employ what is called “pattern-match zone,” meaning they frequently line up in what appears to be zone before falling into coverages that play more like man.

Having a player with Jackson’s man-to-man prowess will permit the defense to be more dynamic and varied.

“With a guy like him, it gives you a lot more depth in your secondary,” Staley said. “It gives you a lot more coverage possibilities against premium passing attacks.”

Sebastian Joseph-Day made his mark in the NFL under Brandon Staley with the Rams, and gets a chance to reunite with the coach as a member of the Chargers.

Jackson will play outside, presenting the Chargers with the option of moving Asante Samuel Jr. into the slot in sub packages with Michael Davis playing the other outside position.

It should be noted, however, that Staley has talked plenty this offseason about never having enough defensive backs, meaning the Chargers still could add to the group.

With Jackson, the Chargers should be able to avoid playing the sort of zone schemes that Staley said can cripple a defense in critical times.

“When you play zone, there’s more air in the coverage for them to take advantage of off schedule,” he said. “So, when you have good coverage players, you can stay connected longer in the down, and it’s a better place to be.”

Jackson, 26, who spent the first four years of his career with New England, has 25 interceptions in 62 games. He had 17 pickoffs over the last two seasons. He just made his first Pro Bowl.

The Chargers made some big moves on defense, adding Khalil Mack and C.J. Jackson in particular, and the Rams lost some personnel as NFL quarterbacks find new jobs.

Staley said the addition of Jackson will “allow us to really become a lot more complete defense.” Notably, he said something very similar after the Chargers traded this month for edge rusher Khalil Mack.

Staley explained what sets Jackson apart from most of the other corners in the NFL is his ability to match up with top wide receivers play after play.

“He’s one of the few guys in the league that actually travels with No. 1 receivers,” Staley said. “If you look at [Amari] Cooper, [CeeDee] Lamb, you look at Mike Evans, [Stefon] Diggs … he’s following these guys. So you’re not just seeing him cover. You’re seeing him cover premium guys.

“It’s that. Then it’s the ball judge and ball skills. In the deep part of the field, this guy can turn you over. … He has that play style that we’re looking for. He’s got that type of toughness, bright lights, he’s up for it.”

Davante Adams is a No. 1 receiver Jackson will now see twice a season. An All-Pro the last two years, Adams was traded last week to Las Vegas after eight seasons with Green Bay.

Rumors had the Broncos pursuing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but Russell Wilson was their target all along and keeping that a secret enabled Denver to complete the deal with Seattle.

Asked about the challenge of facing Adams and the Raiders, Jackson said: “They better be ready for us. I don’t want to talk about him. They better be ready for us.”

C.J. in Riverside

Jackson was born and raised in Florida before spending most of his college career at Maryland. But the Chargers won’t be his first team in Southern California.

He played one season at Riverside City College after being dismissed from the University of Florida following some legal trouble during his freshman year.

“Those were probably my darkest times …” Jackson remembered Tuesday. “Guys who went through juco, they know how that juco life is.”

The Chargers introduced Khalil Mack on Tuesday and the linebacker and coach Brandon Staley recalled how the two did special things together in Chicago.

Jackson admitted that he thought about quitting, explaining that his motivation to continue was a simple desire to improve his situation.

“You’ve got to really start from the bottom and show how bad you really want it,” he said. “There were days were I was like, ‘I’m not going to school. I’m not going to practice.’ ”

Now, only three cornerbacks league-wide have a contract of greater potential value than Jackson’s deal.

From undrafted to one of the best around, Jackson said he is ready for his next chapter, one he predicted weeks ago.

“I was telling me agent, ‘We’re going to L.A.’” Jackson said. “I was telling him from the beginning.”